Gainesville’s Asian Sensations
Although the average hungover UF student might consider a Bento box an authentic Asian feast, here at GainesvilleScene, we want to expand culinary horizons.
We recognize “Asian food” is a pretty broad food category as the cuisines of East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and Middle Eastern regions all have their own unique characteristics. But in little ol’ Hogtown, sometimes we need a little simplicity.
Let this collaborative guide introduce you to the world of rice, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, chilies, dried onions, soy, tofu, stir frying, steaming, and deep frying.
So figure out how to hold those damn chopsticks and dive right in.
Ken Eats Gainesville‘s pick – Bangkok Square
Bangkok Square, located at 6500 SW Archer Road, about 1.5 miles west of I-75, is far and away the best Thai restaurant in town. After the closing of Moraghot Thai several years ago, a good Thai restaurant has been missing from Gainesville’s food-scape. Other than the deplorable conditions at Bahn Thai, or the occasional Thai dish from a Pan-Asian restaurant, we had very little to choose from. But that has changed.
From the beautiful dining room to the delicious curries and the best Pad Thai in town, this place is one of the best new Gainesville restaurants in quite some time. The Duck Panang Curry, Mussaman Curry, and the Pad Thai are all highly recommended. Even if Thai is not your thing, Bangkok Square is the only restaurant in the area that serves sushi. So you can always bring that picky friend who is afraid to try new things. The dining room is small, so be prepared to wait on a busy night, but it’s oh so worth it. Oh, and save room for a glass of Thai Tea and the Crispy Coconut dessert.
Kriti’s pick – Andaz
It was one of those Gainesville monsoon nights when I walked into Andaz with my two other Indian friends, ready with our overcritical palates to taste what some have proclaimed to be the best option for Indian food in Gainesville.
We started our meal with samosa chaat, a traditional Indian street food. The samosa itself was delicious, perfectly crispy with just the right amount of filling-to-pastry ratio. However, the sauce that accompanied it was a little overwhelming. It had clearly been sitting on the samosa a little too long, making the entire dish soggy.
Next came my main dish: tandoori chicken, a universally popular Indian dish). The fluffy white naan that accompanied my chicken was fresh out of the oven, but the dish itself left much to be desired. I took my first bite and thought, This is an Indian flavored chicken wing. I passed it around to my friends and that consensus was reached.
Tandoori is notoriously bathed in turmeric and garam masala, giving it a distinct, reddish tinge and leaving yellow turmeric stains on your fingers as you eat it. My chicken was not even close to red, and I could detect none of the spicy tang of the typical marinade. Even the goat curry was a watered-down stew version of curry with hardly any flavor.
The chicken tikka masala, although not outstanding, was certainly the best thing we ordered. The tomato cream sauce was a tad rich, but hit the spot with just the right amount of masala and tender chicken pieces.
Andaz left me beyond disappointed in the options Gainesville has for Indian food. However, if you are new to Indian cuisine and looking for an intro to Indian flavors, Andaz has some good options.
Erin’s pick – Bagels & Noodles
Bagels & Noodles is one of those restaurants that every Gainesville local seems to swarm to on the weekends. I’d always heard good things, and now that I live within walking distance, the opportunity to visit seemed perfect. My friend and I went during their lunch hours and ordered the shrimp pad thai and deluxe noodle soup (pho dac biet).
Their pad thai was definitely on point. The shrimp tasted fresh, and the crushed peanuts blended with the thai sauce quite well. The deluxe pho, however, was nothing to write home about. The broth had very little flavor (I had to add a lot of hot sauce) and there was barely any tripe. For good pho, I recommend Pho Hanoi on SW 34th St.
Kelli’s pick – Tatu
As you learn over the course of your time here at the University of Florida, there are few things more basic than going to Tatu. As you first step into the tiny restaurant conveniently located next to Rowdy’s and Copper Monkey, you notice a few things.
1. You should probably have a party of at least 15 people. The waiters just LOOVE that.
2. About 25 percent of the party should order food, the rest just the classic Sake special (more on that later).
3. It’s too dark and the music too loud, but not bad enough to leave.
As basic as Tatu might be, however, it’s good enough to keep me coming back to it time and time again, whether it be for a birthday, pre-game meal, or to pretend I’m not a senior. So on my most recent trip to Tatu, I wanted to see what Asian specialties it had to offer.
My friend and I shared the dumplings as an appetizer. The dumplings can either be steamed or fried, as well as “house fried” with homemade sauce for a dollar more. But the waitress said it’s not different enough from regular fried, so don’t waste your Washington. The sauce that is comes with the dumplings probably the best part.
For the entrees, I got the crispy roll, an extremely delicious panko-breaded and fried concoction of grouper, cream cheese and “krab delight.” (a little sketchy) . It’s fattening, filling and has a subtle sweet taste to it. For $8 you get 12 rolls. Then I just had to try a lover’s roll, which my friend ordered for herself, because they looked really pretty. The taste turned out to be just as satisfying as the aesthetics. With strawberries, avocados, shrimp tempura and cream cheese, it’s the perfect combo for a refreshing, yet delicious dinner.
And of course, you can’t go to Tatu without getting the Sake. I usually aim for the $10 special that runs Sunday through Thursday, that offers a large sake and large Kirin. But there’s plenty of variety with drinks, like blueberry sake and strawberry beer, letting you somewhat enjoy the sake bombs you’re going to be downing way too fast.
So for when you’re craving Asian, you really can’t go wrong with the Midtown Gainesville classic that is Tatu.
Alyssa’s pick – Ichiban
For me, Asian cuisine has always been about whatever I could order off a take-out menu. However, I am always looking to expand my culinary horizons, so I was excited to try Ichiban. I gathered up a group of friends, and we indulged in some Asian staples.
The atmosphere of Ichiban is akin to that of a traditional Japanese sushi house. Bamboo walls, paintings of Japanese plants and low lighting that will be sure to excite some romantic feelings. The atmosphere is made more pleasant by the attentive and agreeable wait staff.
But, let’s get to the good stuff… The food.
We all started off with a soup or salad. Both the miso and onion soups are delicious, bursting with traditional flavors that are perfect for the beginning of a meal. The homemade ginger dressing for the salad illuminated the otherwise boring house salad.
For sushi lovers, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the Smoking Salmon rolls. With two different types of fish, cream cheese, avocado, tempura flakes and an explosive spicy sauce, what more could you ask for in a plate of sushi? It is one of the house recommendations, and rightfully so. The spicy lava sauce helps to enhance the natural flavors in the rolls.
For non-sushi lovers, fear not. There are other pan-Asian options. The Pad Thai isn’t the best or most flavorful I’ve ever had, but the Sukiyaki, a broth with meat and clear noodles, is a solid choice.
All in all, I would say that Ichiban is a great sushi place with a wide variety of choices that suit the tastes of all of its guests. If you’re looking for a place to break up the monotony of your takeout routine, give Ichiban a try.
Gyt’s pick – Chopstix Cafe
South on SW 13th St., before you start hitting the natural beauty we know as Paynes Prairie, is a little café on a lake that goes by the name of Chopstix. If you’re looking for a place to sit and watch the sunset while enjoying some coconut curry, or if you’re just trying to bring back some pad thai to your bed so you can snuggle up and watch Netflix, Chopstix Café has got you covered.
What I can say is that if you’re in the mood for Pan-Asian around town, this is the place the place to go. The Penang is a personal favorite of mine, and unlike a lot of curries in the world, it won’t leave you feeling like a 20 pound weight was dropped into your stomach after eating. Any of the noodle bowls are always a safe bet as well. So do yourself a favor, skip on all the places close to campus and make the 10-minute adventure.
Cresonia’s pick – Yummy House
Although there is a the relatively high percentage of Asian Americans in Gainesville who attend the university, north Florida is not known for it’s Asian food – and with good reason. But in a city where sweet tea is more prominent than bubble tea, authentic Asian food is not impossible to find. Ladies and gents, welcome to Yummy House.
I went to Yummy House to try out their dim sum. Dim sum is a Cantonese-style food that is served à la carte style on rolling metal carts, typically only for brunch or lunch. The food is served in small dishes meant to be shared among the members of the table. Yummy House only serves dim sum from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m, but know that they typically run out by 1:30 p.m. I visited the 7605 W. Newberry Rd. restaurant around noon on Sunday.
Asian restaurants aren’t typically known for their ambience, and Yummy House isn’t an exception. The service is fast, but the tables are tightly packed. However, that didn’t bother me much. My only complaint was the almost insurmountable language barrier. The server who came to our table could do the run-of-the-mill Q-and-A. However, she couldn’t communicate what was in the dishes.
Yummy House’s asset is definitely its food. It’s the only Dim Sum place in Gainesville.
But if you’re expecting “American Chinese” or “pan Asian” food, you’ll be disappointed. Yummy House only does “real” Chinese. Of everything I ordered, my favorites were the Shanghai-style dumplings and deep-fried taro cake. With the exception of the pan-fried chive dumplings being cold and the honey-glazed BBQ pork being too fatty, I was satisfied with almost all of the dishes. For Chinese food, you really can’t go wrong at Yummy House.
Overall, I’d give this restaurant 3.5 out of 5 stars. Yummy House is a great place to go if you’re looking for an authentic cultural experience. The service is friendly, the cost is reasonable and the food is good. Just make sure you carpool — the parking is horrendous.
Featured photo courtesy of: SpoonWiz