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Meals by the mile: 10 restaurants along South Tacoma Way

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Oct. 24, 2008 at 2:10 pm | No Comments »
April 21, 2010 12:05 pm

Yumi Seo of Nak Won Korean Cuisine in the food court at Paldo World serves lunch to Kimberly Kwon of Lakewood (left) and Amy Lee of Lakewood. Peter Haley / The News Tribune.

Editor’s note: Today we launch a new series called 10-in-one. In this series, we’ll write quick dining observations of 10 restaurants located in a concentrated area. Today, we take to South Tacoma Way. Future visits include the Pacific/McKinley neighborhood along 38th, Freighthouse Square and Proctor. Have a 10-in-one neighborhood suggestion? E-mail us at

By Sue Kidd and Craig Sailor

It started as a mission for a midday meal and wound up a dining project. We took to South Tacoma Way one September afternoon with a simple mission: What’s for lunch?

For this edition, we chose a section of South Tacoma Way between Highway 512 and the B&I shopping center. This part of town offers a variety of eateries from Korean barbecue to pho to sushi. In these restaurants you’re as likely to sit next to an off-duty performer from Déj Vu (it happened to us twice) as a family out for a weekend meal. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Kyoto Japanese Restaurant

8722 South Tacoma Way, Suite D, Lakewood, 253-581-7229,

Price range: $14-$30

You’ve got to cross a bridge to enter Kyoto. Not a metaphorical bridge. A real one.

It’s one of the nice touches (including a koi pond, sushi bar and tatami rooms) that creates a wonderful ambience in this Japanese restaurant. The menu is extensive with Japanese entrees, sushi, Korean dishes, alcohol and about 30 appetizers.

The combination bento box ($12.95 lunch) came with tempura, kalbi, pickles, miso, rice, sushi and potato patty. If you’re brave, try the natto roll ($6.95), which comes with shiso, cucumber, sprouts and natto – a mucusy fermented soybean that some Japanese won’t even eat. It was slimy and wonderful.

There are 18 other sushi rolls on the menu and almost 30 nigiri sushi. The sushi sampler ($13.95) came with seven nigiri and a California roll. A deep-fried kaki appetizer ($5.95) had a delightful oyster flavor if not dipped in its accompanying sauce. – Craig Sailor

Three Sisters Tacoma Szechuan

9601 South Tacoma Way, No. 102, Lakewood, 253-581-0102

Price range: Up to $14

Maybe three sisters means three times as many food offerings at this Chinese restaurant. It would take you half a year to eat through the 170-plus dinner entrees offered.

We stuck to the lunch menu. Partly because those entrees came with rice (steamed or fried) and soup, and partly because we only had to choose from 50 items. Egg flower soup was typically bland, but the hot and sour soup was much spicier than average. Sweat began to bead on our foreheads.

Moo shoo pork ($6.95) came with its requisite wrapping skins and plum sauce, General Tsao’s chicken ($6.95) was nicely savory, the eggplant in hot garlic sauce ($6.95) had tender flesh. Happy Family ($8.95), a beef-chicken-shrimp-vegetable combo, was our only disappointment for its rather plain flavor.

One quibble: Some of the sauces were much too gooey, as if they had too much cornstarch or some other thickener. – Craig Sailor

Macau Casino Restaurant and Bar

9811 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood, 253-983-1777

Price range: Up to $14

Card counters may lurk in the Macau Casino, but you won’t find many carb counters in its restaurant. The menu consists of two pages of typical American diner food and two pages of Chinese dishes. A "Miami Vice" color scheme sets the mood along with flaming torches, Chinese lanterns and mirrored window boxes.

As an appetizer, we ordered the steamer clams ($9.95) and were surprised when a bowl of pearly white shells arrived. They were as good as their grey Northwest cousins and a little bigger.

We dined on the walnut prawns ($14.95). Candied walnuts and lightly battered shrimp were served with a sauce made from sweetened condensed milk. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off. We folded after trying the blackened "blue" burger ($8.95), a grilled (and desiccated) -pound patty with Cajun spices and blue cheese.

What little luck I had left finally ran out in the men’s room where a patron regaled me with stories of his DUI arrest and car tow. Then he hit me up for money and a ride down South Tacoma Way. – Craig Sailor

Manmi Bakery

9205 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood, 253-583-0404

Price range: Up to $14

Bakery fiends will think they’ve died and gone to Korean pastry heaven. This bakery is full of irresistible pastry nibbles.

Of the three dozen or so baked goods offered, we tried a dozen and I liked the sweet potato bread and red bean-filled pasties the best (delicious flaky exterior filled with a sweet and substantial filling). We sampled an interesting "Sausage Bread" that my dining partner said was "the most interesting and fancy way I’ve ever eaten a sliced hot dog." Drizzled with a sauce that tastes and looks like ketchup, it appears, indeed, to be a sliced hot dog baked into pastry. Little boys will love it for breakfast. Your grown-up palate may wish to take a pass, however.

This is a small bakery, with a table where you can sit and have a cup of coffee and sample the pastries, but your party will have to be very small (four or fewer).

Bargain alert: The more you buy, the more you save. Buy 10, get three free ($12) or buy five, get one free ($6). Individually, pastries are sold for about $1.19 each. – Sue Kidd

Yen Ching

8765 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma, 253-582-3400

Price range: $14-$30

Look out, Hello Kitty. This is a Chinese restaurant that loves shades of pink. The dining room sort of looks like an Asian grandmother’s living room, as I imagine. If you’re looking for an out-of-the-way locale to conduct a top-secret job interview, the tall, private booths make this the place to go. It’s also a place for kids and families. Look for a box of kid toys in the waiting area.

Sizzling soup for two ($5.50) is enough to feed four and how you should start a meal here. The rice makes a fun crackling sound when the server scoops it into the chicken broth. Young diners will love it.

The menu is straightforward Mandarin and Sichuan. The Szechwan pork ($8.95) is a salty treat spiked with vegetables. Shrimp egg fu yung ($10.75) is a fairly average preparation with a barely memorable gravy sauce. The crispy zucchini spears added nice crunch in balance with the copious amounts of shrimp in the dish (they don’t chintz on the shrimp). Curry shrimp ($10.50) is another bargain on the menu. It’s an overflowing plate of deliciously sautéed shrimp in a light curry sauce. It’s also enough to feed three people. – Sue Kidd

Palace BBQ

8718 South Tacoma Way, Suite A-1, Lakewood, 253-581-0880

Price range: $14-$30

Open 11 a.m. to midnight daily, the Palace should be on your list for late-night dining. This is traditional Korean barbecue, although not the kind where you cook at your own table.

If bulgogi ($12.95) is the standard by which to judge a Korean barbecue joint, then the Palace does a killer job of grilling its meat. Piles of grilled beef arrive perfectly charred and shiny with a smoky-sweet sauce. The dish is enough for two, easily.

If you are a fan of bento, order dwae gi bul go gi do shi rak , a spicy pork barbecue bento box ($6.95, lunch) that comes with pickled daikon, a cabbage salad, rice and a large portion of moderately spiced barbecued pork. It’s a fantastic bargain.

As for appetizers, skip the dhuck bok ki ($5.95), the pan-fried rice cake in a spicy sauce was simply OK in a rubbery rice cake kind of way (eh), but absolutely revolting upon reheating at home later. The goon man doo ($5.95), pan-fried dumplings also were a miss thanks to a rubbery exterior and flavorless meat and veggie filling. In fact, skip the starters altogether and opt instead for the complimentary little dishes of Korean appetizers, called banchan, that start the meal. Bean threads marinated in sesame oil, kimchi, a sautéed spinach dish and a creamy apple salad composed the banchan selection on the day of my visit. – Sue Kidd

Cho Dang Tofu

9601 South Tacoma Way, No. 101, Lakewood, 253-682-1968

Price range: $14-$30

You just never know who you’re going to dine next to at Cho Dang Tofu, whether it’s a couple of middle-age Korean women flirting with a businessman at a nearby table or an off-duty Déj Vu performer. Even the servers at Cho Dang Tofu are characters, dressed in Willy Wonka-looking outfits. On our visit, the servers wore bright yellow frocks that were puffy and interesting, to say the least.

Despite the eye candy that peppers the dining room, the food is focused around one central theme: tofu and dumplings, it seems. Soups with tofu and different meats, what’s not to like? The dumpling tofu soup ($8.99) is my favorite pick from the dozen on the menu.

If you stray from the soup menu, definitely take a good look at the Korean barbecue beef ribs ($14.99). The sticky sweet marinated ribs are a satisfying and meaty munch on their own. Eat them in concert with a bowl of tofu soup, and you’ve got a perfect pairing for lunch. – Sue Kidd

La Casa De Sharon

9716 South Tacoma Way, Suite C, Lakewood, 253-984-0966

Price Range: Up to $14

Ofelia Ramirez is the dynamo that runs this one-woman juice and fruit shop. The Aguascalientes, Mexico, native used to offer tamales but discontinued them ("Too much work.") But you won’t miss them if you get your hands on one of her ceviche tostadas ($3.25). A generous portion of shrimp came with onions, tomatoes and avocado wedges on a crispy tortilla with lime. You can accent the dish with the half-dozen bottles of hot sauce Ramirez keeps on the counter.

Ramirez offers a pico de gallo ($5.50) with chunks of mango, pineapple, cantaloupe, cucumbers, watermelon, chili powder and lemon juice. She makes her bionicos (fruit salads) to order. On the day I stopped in, two customers ordered theirs with granola and crema on top.

Fresh fruit juices come in 16-ounce ($3.25) and 24-ounce ($3.97) sizes. She’ll juice just about any fruit combo you want, but she has several named offerings, including El Vampiro (beets, orange, carrots and celery). – Craig Sailor

Than Brothers

8515 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood, 253-582-5120

Price range: Up to $14

This restaurant is soup central. All they serve is Vietnamese pho soup, with the exception of beverages and cream puffs for dessert (a must order!). Gotta love a restaurant that knows its micro niche.

This is bargain-priced eating, with pho prices ranging from $4.35 to $6.25. A small bowl, at $4.35 is hearty eating, and the extra large bowl at $6.25 is big enough to share for a decent lunch. This is the place to go with large groups of friends on a cold fall evening. Sip your soup, have a young coconut drink and order a few cream puffs to share.

The broth is what you’d expect of Vietnamese noodle soup, a rich beef broth scented with aromatic spices (think star anise and lots of garlic) and served with the typical add-ins on the side: basil, sprouts, sliced jalapeños and spicy sauces to spike the broth. The Chin Nam ($5.15 for large) was laden with ribbons of rice noodle and thinly sliced brisket and well-done slices of flank steak. It’s sort of the Vietnamese equivalent of granny’s hearty beef soup – the kind of soup you want to eat when you feel a really bad cold coming on, or you need to do some sort of self consoling. Feeling lousy? Get yourself to Than Brothers quick.

Word of caution: Sometimes it’s better to check a bathroom before you eat a meal at a restaurant. If you can look beyond the messy kitchen floor and dirty bathroom, you’ll do fine at Than Brothers. – Sue Kidd

Paldo World food court

9601 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood

Price range: Up to $14

Paldo World, the megastore of all things Korean, is the anchor for a food court with three restaurants. Chicky Pub offers chicken prepared in a variety of manners. Nak Won is the prerequisite Korean barbecue, and Peking Garden provides a variety of Chinese dishes. All in all, you have your choice of more than 70 entrees.

We tried the bulgogi ($7.95) at Nak Won. The thin beef strips were tender, sweet and flavorful. Six ban chan dishes accompanied it along with steamed rice and miso soup.

At Chicky Pub (how can you not love that name?), we ordered the spicy chicken bento box ($8.99). Its star attraction was crispy, sweet and indeed spicy. In addition to the chicken, the box came with rice, salad, gyoza (dumplings), California roll sushi, chicken nuggets, breaded shrimp and soup.

Another section of the food court makes what were described as Korean doughnuts. – Craig Sailor

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