It wasn't too long ago that Charleston had just two sushi joints, and Thai food could only be found at a converted Putt-Putt on Rivers Avenue. Fortunately, those flavorless days are long gone. We've experienced an Asian explosion in recent years, and there's a ton of choices for decent renditions of Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese classics. Here's a short list of some good options, if you're looking to find a little bite of ethnicity in this little corner of the world.
Our food critic Robert Moss tackled Octobachi this week, so we thought it might be a good place to start for a bowl of Vietnamese pho. "The pho is something people are looking for that they can't usually find in this area," says Chef Adam Jones. For his version, Jones submerges raw Angus strip loin and local vegetables into boiling ginger and fish-based broth. They throw in fiery jalapeño peppers along with flavorful bunches of cilantro, basil, and bean sprouts with a spritz of tangy lime juice. It comes with either wheat or rice noodles. "It's a simple soup, but it's got a lot of flavor going on," Jones promises.
Over on James Island, Jasmine Thai has been serving up spicy Thai food for many years. Owner Myrna Jenkins recommends the larb, which blends chicken, pork, or beef with onions, cilantro, Thai basil leaves, galangal, fish oil, and lime juice. The hot and spicy meat mixture is served alongside romaine lettuce or cabbage, which is used for wrapping up the meat and delivering it to your mouth. "It's a healthy dish," she says. "The fish oil sounds weird, but we just like to put it in there to give it a different taste." The coconut milk soup, Tom Yum, is a classic choice for a chilly fall day. White meat chicken is cooked in coconut milk and lime juice and seasoned with galangal root, lemongrass, and lime leaves. It just might be the quintessential representation of Thai flavors.
At Bambu in Mt. Pleasant, the tangy and spicy Bambu Favorite is a panko-encrusted rice cake topped with spicy tuna, spicy crab, and jalapeño and served with mango purée, sweet chili sauce, and wasabi aioli. A little bite with big flavors. They also have a selection of sushi, and Executive Chef Charles Bailey says the Scam Roll is a crowd favorite. It has tempura crab and cream cheese with shrimp, avocado, and spicy crab salad on top. For a hot dish, he recommends the classic Thai basil. Ground chicken breast is wok-fried with garlic, chili sauce, green beans, and onions and served over jasmine rice with brown sauce, sweet soy sauce, and fresh, peppery Thai basil. "It's sweet, salty, and a little bit spicy," he says.
Out in West Ashley, Red Orchids is loved and lauded for its great Chinese fare, but co-owner Kelly Chu is also becoming quite famous for her creative ice cream flavors. She just added a 16th flavor to the menu, which is awesomely unusual. "I love the goat cheese raspberry," she says. "Some people think it's a crazy combination, but they actually complement each other very, very well." Other flavors she recommends are the black sesame, which has a nutty savor, and the classic green tea, which is light and refreshing.