For anyone who grew up in the world of weirdly wonderful Chinese dishes — those creations with a lobsterless lobster sauce — and has moved on to other Eastern cuisines, East Charlotte yields gastronomic treasures, though of unequal quality.
When the Super G Mart opened in a shopping center, which has been in an identity crisis since Best Buy left years ago, the center transformed into a destination. Today, Super G Mart draws a variety of shoppers: those looking for specific ethnic ingredients and those looking for values. Not surprisingly, Super G Mart has expanded into prepared foods and in the back corner of the store is the simply named Korean Restaurant. This is the first eatery owned by entrepreneur He Yun Park. Korean, though, is not a restaurant with table service and atmosphere. Ten tables line an aisle which borders other shops, including one offering steamed Chinese buns, opening in early March. Orders are taken at the counter; food is delivered to the table.
The menu is basic: soups; noodle and rice dishes; and meat. The most popular dishes have been photographed in color with names in both Korean and English. These display signs are strung over a prepared food to-go case containing sushi, marinated beans and spicy stir fries, as well as other items. On most days, Park is behind the counter guiding novices through the Korean dishes and welcoming her regulars.
The best dish is the BiBimbap, one of Korea's signature dishes, which is served either cold or hot. The advantage to the hot is the crispy sear created on the rice as the dish continues to cook in its clay pot. Within this "mixed meal" are slivers of marinated beef, julienned strips of daikon, mushrooms, doraji (the cooked root of the bellflower plant), a large fried egg (the yolk instantly cooked when mixed with the white rice) and a heady dose of gochujang (chili paste). Sensational.
Also good is the Soon Doo Boo, both fun to say as well as eat. This soft tofu stew features a broth piquant with gochujang and flecked with bits of mushrooms, tiny mussels, chopped scallions, and a raw egg, again instantly cooked with the heat of the broth. Other popular dishes include the ever so tender soy-infused beef bulgogi, served with Korean slaw. Entrées here are a deal: $6 to $8.
Near the other end of the shopping center is the humble Pho Huong Que. Owner Hoa Tran opened his 15-table restaurant in February 2011 and his primary focus is on Pho, that lovely Vietnamese comfort soup. On the menu are 20 variations of Pho from rare steak to chicken. Pho is dependent on the flavor of the broth: In this case, the style is southern (Vietnam), which is slightly sweeter than northern pho.
Tran's pho arrives with the shimmer of fat glistening on the surface, with thin slices of rare beef and tendons in a rather mellow broth laced with rice noodles. Only a few sprigs of basil, mint, and Vietnamese coriander (rau ram) were offered. I had expected more. The other 50 items on the roster feature noodle and rice dishes. Recently, specials such as beef wrapped in wild betel leaf and steamed rice cakes were removed. "People didn't order them," reported one server.
704-536-5848. 7323 East Independence Blvd. (inside the Super G Mart). Hours: Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Pho Huong Que
704-536-0401. 7211 East Independence Blvd. Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.