My food recommendations — take it with a grain of rice

March 26, 2020 — by Serena Li

Smaller Asian restraunts that serve gormet food in the Bay Area

The Bay Area is famous for its wide variety of Asian food. However, beyond popular chains — like Haidilao, Somi Somi and Ramen Nagi —  there are also many small businesses that offer similar gourmet food. 

As you turn left into a small plaza on Kiely Boulevard in Santa Clara, a thin white banner with the words “Kunjip” appears in front of the entrance to a flat, white building with rows of cars parked in front. Although the entrance seems dilapidated, this restaurant sells some of the most authentic Korean foods in the local area. 

Kunjip is a Korean restaurant that specializes in bone-broths and braised short ribs. It has a 4.4 out of 5 rating on Google Reviews, and the menu offers a total of 11 dishes. 

The Kunjip experience starts with the moment you enter the store. Be prepared for at least a 15-minute wait, if you’re lucky. As you get seated, you are greeted with three side dishes (banchan) immediately: kimchi, kkakdugi (spicy radishes) and oi muchim (pickled cucumbers). 

Being a non-kimchi-enthusiast, I found the kimchi at this restaurant to be a pleasant surprise. The cabbage was crispy but moist, and the sourness of the sauce and sweetness of the cabbage blended at just the right balance with a hint of spiciness peeking through.

My favorite dish from this restaurant was No. 10, the Galbi Jjim, a traditional Korean braised beef short in a rich sauce. As you take a bite, the succulent pork melts in your mouth while the house special sauce’s prominent savory taste explodes. 

The rice and side dishes perfectly complement this dish and help to offset the dish’s heavy, robust flavor. 

The best way to eat this dish is to dip the pork inside some jalapeño soy sauce that the restaurant provides. The extra spice and salt enhance the dish’s overall flavor and helps to make the meat even more tender.  

This restaurant is also the perfect option to go to with friends and family. The serving sizes are huge. One dish of the Galbi Jjim is enough food for at least three people, which makes it a great way to spend quality time with loved ones. 

The next local gem is located on E. Estates Drive in Cupertino. The dull orange building with the words “Red Hot Wok” comes into sight, as you pull up into the small plaza on the side of the street. Best known for its minced pork rice, Red Hot Wok is a Taiwanese restaurant that has a 4.4 out of 5 rating on Google Reviews. 

The interior is decorated with red walls and Chinese-style lanterns that hang from the ceiling. The menu offers authentic Taiwanese dishes from soups to seafood. 

My favorite dish from Red Hot Wok is the minced pork rice. When I traveled to Taiwan for a vacation in second grade, the minced pork rice there became one of my favorite dishes. However, no bowl of minced pork rice I’ve had since then was able to replicate the juiciness and the way the flavors balanced together like the one in Taiwan did. 

The one at Red Hot Wok was the closest that ever came to it. The first mouthful I took brought me back to my second-grade self. The smoky, rich flavor of the meat topped with savory sauce and zesty pickled radish created the perfect flavor blend to eat with rice. 

While the portion was quite big for me, I gobbled it down and reminisced about its taste even after I got home. If you’re looking for a Taiwanese staple, this is definitely the place to go to. 

While many famous chain restaurants are a great way to spend your evenings, exploring the underground food scene and stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to unexpected discoveries of new gems. 

As amazing as these restaurants are, we should also continue to practice social distancing during this pandemic. However, you can still support these local businesses by purchasing gift cards. Once the shelter in place is over, you can enjoy a mouthful of Galbi Jjim with some minced pork rice.

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