THE 20 BEST NEW ASIAN DISHES IN AMERICA
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BEST DUMPLINGS FROM AN ODD COUPLE: Shrimp and Snow Pea Leaf Dumplings
RedFarm, New York City
Of all the quirky concoctions Jewish Chinese-food maven Ed Schoenfeld and dim sum master Joe Ng produce, the best is these impossibly delicate dumplings, with snow-pea leaves and shrimp showing through the gossamer skins.
BEST THING ON A STICK: Skewered Sweetbreads
Matthias Merges, who honed his skills at iconic Chicago restaurant Charlie Trotter's, takes yakitori to a new level with his first solo endeavor. Skewered sweetbreads—crispy outside, creamy in the middle—are jazzed up with a sort of barbecue sauce made with umami-packed preserved plum.
BEST JAPANESE FOOD WITH A SPANISH ACCENT: Sautéed Shishito Peppers
Masu Sushi & Robata, Minneapolis
Twin Cities superstar Tim McKee, who has no background in Japanese food, earns his keep with this dead-simple riff on the Spanish classic pimientos de Padrón. Shishito peppers are blistered in a pan and then combined with coarse sea salt and a papery shaving of katsuo boshi (cured, dried bonito) that quivers on top from the heat of the peppers.
BEST REASON TO RENOUNCE RAMEN: Zara Udon (left)
U:Don Fresh Japanese Noodle Station, Seattle
Judging from the recent explosion of ramen shops, you'd think there were no other noodles in the Japanese repertoire. How sad it would be if you were to overlook these house-made udon noodles, served cold and tossed in a soy dipping sauce along with scallions and ginger.
BEST NOODLE-FREE NOODLE DISH: Pad Thai Rai Sen
Little Uncle, Seattle
This takeout-only storefront in Capitol Hill serves pad Thai that demolishes the dish's gloopy past. A butcher-paper package is filled with an expertly wok-fried combo of locally made tofu, organic eggs, and bean sprouts, and there's nary a noodle in sight.
BEST LATE-NIGHT MUNCHIE: Salt-and-Pepper Shrimp
Octopus Bar, Atlanta
After leaving their own kitchens, many of Atlanta's best chefs huddle in the enclosed patio at the Vietnamese spot So Ba to eat at the Octopus Bar. The most demanded of chef Angus Brown's dishes is the deftly fried Chinese-style salt-and-pepper shrimp, shells-and-heads-on.
BEST CLASSIC PLATE, REMIXED: Truffle Banh Cam
Jason Cichonski broke many a rule when he took on the textural pleasures of banh cam, the chewy-crispy Vietnamese rice balls. He swapped the typical sweet-mung-bean filling for a purée of white beans and decked them out with brandy-soaked prunes and a dusting of powdered truffle. Messing with a classic never tasted so good.
BEST REASON TO FALL FOR DAVID CHANG ALL OVER AGAIN: Rotisserie Duck Over Rice (right)
Momofuku Ssäm Bar, New York City
The Korean godfather's most revelatory offering since his game-changing pork-belly bun is the lunch-only duck over rice—rotisserie-roasted with sausage tucked beneath the skin.
BEST REASON TO EAT A WEIRD ANIMAL PART: Crispy Pig Ear
Aviary, Portland, Oregon
Top coconut rice, Chinese sausage, and avocado with crunchy shards of fried pig's ear and the result is like an out-of-this-world nachos dish.
BEST REASON TO HIT THE STRIP: Thai Beef and Meatball Noodle Soup
Le Thai, Las Vegas
It takes pluck to open a Thai spot in the same city as the national mecca Lotus of Siam, but Dan Coughlin draws locals and bachelor-party attendees with this ruddy broth, fortified with beef bones, marrow, and copious chilies, brimming with noodles, slices of tender beef and pork, and addictively springy meatballs.
BEST BIG-TIME ASIAN BURGER: Burger 14
Eastern-inflected burgers are often a cut above, but Tim Maslow, the Momofuku-empire alum who took over the night menu at his parents' steak-sandwich shop, has hit a new level with a fat patty alive with juice, bright lemon aioli, pickled onion, and—move over, Heinz—smoked miso.
BEST REASON TO GO VEGAN FOR A MEAL: Vegan Miso Ramen (left)
Wafu, Portland, Oregon
Along with the tangle of noodles, rich pork stock is an essential ramen ingredient. But Trent Pierce harnesses the power of nori (dried kelp) and miso to create a broth that will enamor noble carnivores and die-hard vegans alike.
BEST REASON TO RETHINK TOFU: Vadouvan Tofu
Hawker Fare, Oakland
James Syhabout, the man behind Oakland's fine-dining destination Commis, took over his mom's Thai restaurant and launched a new eatery that makes perhaps the most compelling argument ever for saying no to the short ribs: tofu simmered in coconut milk and seasoned with aromatic vadouvan spice and a last-minute handful of fresh herbs.
Best Fried Chicken That Isn't Korean: Duck Fat Fried Chicken
Slurping Turtle, Chicago
The Japanese have a fine, little-known rendition of fried chicken, which Chi-town celebrity Takashi Yagihashi perfected by applying a soy-sauce-and-chili marinade and cornstarch batter, then submerging the pieces in bubbling duck fat.
Best Glorified Fast Food: Crispy Chicken Wings
Parallel 37, San Francisco
The lavish dining room at the Ritz-Carlton recently underwent a casual makeover, but you still wouldn't expect to be eating chicken wings here. Ron Siegel, longtime Ritz chef and a Thomas Keller protégé, eschews messy pub style for elegantly deboned morsels brightened with lemon and a generous dose of psychedelic Sichuan peppercorns.
Best Wicked-Good New England-New Asian Fusion: Green Curry Clam Chowder (above left)
A-Frame, Los Angeles
Just when you thought all options for Asian fusion had been exhausted, Roy Choi (above right, creator of Kogi Korean BBQ, L.A.'s famous food trucks) rejiggered a classic, swapping coconut milk for cream, applying green curry, and wisely keeping the cubes of pork.
Best Neat Version of a Messy Dish: Black-Pepper Crab Toast
The Spice Table, Los Angeles
Those who enjoy the taste of crab more than the indecorous extraction of the delicate meat can thank Bryant Ng for doing the hard part, serving a generous portion on a plate (with the requisite white toast on the side) and not holding back on his killer sauce.
Best Fish in the Desert: Sashimi Plate
ShinBay, Scottsdale, Arizona
The coasts have long hogged the country's fish-fetishizing Japanese chefs, but Shinji Kurita chose Arizona for his serene, 12-seat sushi counter, from which he serves multi-course meals, including an ever-changing sashimi plate with six little masterpieces, like a fat oyster topped with ponzu gelée and a custardy blob of sea urchin.
Best Thing to Happen to Rice Since Sushi: Rice Steamed With Dungeness Crab (right)
Brushstroke, New York City
Irascible New York restaurant veteran David Bouley partnered with a storied Japanese cooking school to launch his latest gastronomic adventure. The most spectacular dish turned out by the instructors of the Osaka-based Tsuji Culinary Institute is also the least elaborate, a study in subtlety: rice so impeccably cooked that each grain feels separate, imbued with the sweetness of Dungeness crab.
Best Forward-Looking Pho: Pho With McAllen Ranch Short Ribs
Elizabeth Street Café, Austin
The pho at this cheery Vietnamese boulangerie inspires the requisite carping from those who think the dish should never break the $6 barrier. But Larry McGuire and Tommy Moorman employ long-cooked broth, immaculate herbs, and braised sustainably raised short ribs from nearby McAllen Ranch to provide a riposte that satisfies the doubters.