Charleston Eats: The state of Asian cuisine

A trip to a relatively new Korean restaurant (after discovering the one I normally go closed its doors) got me thinking about the history and current state of Asian cuisine in the area.

When I first moved to Charleston in 1999, the state of Asian cuisine was pretty sad. From what I could see at the time, it was just Chinese take-out and buffet places. I remember an article in the Post & Courier around that time saying the Chinese population in Charleston was a few thousand. I'm pretty sure half of them worked at MUSC and the other half worked in cheesy Chinese buffet places.

When Red Orchid and later, Dragon Palace opened, they nudged Chinese cuisine away from take-out and buffet just a little bit. There are still lots of cheesy Chinese buffet and take-out places though and nobody serving real dim sum for the foreseeable future (which makes me sad). If you're looking for something a little better than the typical take-out or buffet, Red Orchid, Dragon Palace and Osaka are the places to go. If you're lucky enough to go with the right people, I know at least one place where you can order off the secret Chinese menu and get some really excellent dishes that blow the ones on their regular menu out of the water. Sadly I cannot read the secret Chinese menu, so I can only have them when I go with the right people who can.

Japanese food was (and for the most part still is) limited to hibachi style dinners at Miyabi. A few more hibachi style places opened, then sushi bars started popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. It seemed like everybody was adding a sushi bar to their restaurant. The popularity of sushi is a trend that still continues with the openings of places like Octobachi and O-ku.

Basil opened downtown and brought Thai food to Charleston's culinary scene. After that, everybody started opening Thai restaurants it seemed. Thai became a Thing and still remains pretty popular.

Korean and Vietnamese fare still remain under-represented in Charleston. For a while, Kim's Korean Restaurant West of the Ashley was the only place to get Korean food, and it was pretty good. Later, Mama KIm's opened downtown, and relatively recently Rice B out in west West Ashley. Stopped at Kim's today and found it was closed, with a dumpster out front. It looks like Mama Kim's and Rice B are currently the only choices left for Korean food in Charleston.

For a while, the only spot I knew of to get Vietnamese food was a little restaurant in North Charleston (not sure if it's still there). Vietnamese cuisine in Charleston suffered a bit of a set back with the closing of Quyen, but seems to be making a bit of a resurgence in the form of places serving up banh mi style street food and a new restaurant (CO) downtown. Now there are a couple of restaurants dishing up banh mi sandwiches including Autobanh, a new food truck that hit the streets a couple weeks ago. If these prove successful (and what I've heard so far is pretty good), they could do for Vietnamese food what Basil did for Thai food in Charleston.

Asian cuisine has come a long way since I first came to Charleston, and continues to evolve. It will be interesting to see how things continue to develop.