Asian Garden • 2488 Hillcrest Road, Mobile 36695 • 251-661-8338
I’ve had a lot of people ask me about Korean food lately, and I can’t seem to find any. I’m all ears if you know a spot within a hundred-mile radius. Mainly the inquiries are about Korean barbecue, something I’ve considered getting into at home since I do love beef bulgogi. That’s the Korean dish requested the most.
It got me thinking of the last time I had anything labeled Korean. There was the Korean barbecue taco from Jack’s by the Tracks in Pascagoula, which may be my favorite taco ever, but the last time I remember having bulgogi was at Asian Garden.
When my mind is set on something delicious, it’s hard to steer me from it. We loaded up the latest grocery-grabbing Subaru, new to our fleet, and headed west on Cottage Hill. I can’t say exactly how many other places tempted us, but I had tunnel vision. It was bulgogi or bust for me.
A full parking lot engulfing a smallish building is a sign of two things: The food is probably good, and you’ll more than likely have to wait on seating. It’s been four years since my last visit, but I very quickly realized my rookie mistake of hitting this place up at noon on a Sunday.
They were slammed. In the weeds. The 112-degree heat index was, despite a short walk through the parking lot, enough to make us appreciate the air conditioning no matter if we were sitting or standing. A 15-minute wait was surely bearable.
When finally seated, I noticed the lunch menu showed no signs of the dish that prompted the short-term (disputable, I know) insanity that drove me to drive this far for a bit of beef and a bowl of rice. A bit of panic set in. I was prepared to walk in spite of the fact that the chair was soft and accommodating and the cool air was drying my feverishly hot forehead, until the third waitress to take our drink order told me I could certainly order off the dinner menu. Whew!
About the time Waitress #3 was tending to us, the restaurant was calming down and resuming a sense of normalcy for diners and servers alike. We’d all handled it well with minimal panic or fussing and fighting. It was now time to get busy eating.
You can’t take the boys anywhere Asian without getting pork dumplings ($4.50). Call them pot stickers or any other of the half-dozen names you see in this town, but I’m on board with this type of behavior. Asian Garden offers them steamed, deep-fried or pan-fried. We chose the latter for that hint of crispiness.
We ran the table on the soup course, complimentary with every lunch special. Graham was more than pleased with his miso. Crispy noodles, cheese-stuffed wontons and a veggie spring roll on the side were “delicacies from the Orient” as far as he was concerned. He loved every bit.
Lucas had the clear-broth egg drop soup, flavorful despite its plain appearance. He’s fond of the crispy noodles, but donated the rest of his fanfare to his little brother. Katie had the wonton soup, with a single, sizable wonton with good texture and plenty of vegetables. Cabbage, greens and the wonton not being “cooked to death” won her over.
Since I wasn’t ordering from the lunch menu I had to order soup separately. Tom yum ($4.50) isn’t exactly what you crave in these temperatures, but I wasn’t going to feel left out. Served with chicken and shrimp, I will allow that it’s not my favorite. A bit of cabbage, mushrooms, imitation crab and that oddly cut chicken just didn’t turn me on. The broth was pretty good and I enjoyed the heat level 3 (of a possible 5), but I just wanted it to be a little simpler.
Lucas had the beef and broccoli lunch ($7.50), basically pepper steak with mixed veggies of carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini and onions in a brown sauce. He ate all of his vegetables, save the onions and ‘shrooms, again passing them off to his brother.
Moo Goo Gai Pan ($7.50) was Katie’s choice, and she was happy to report the thin-sliced chicken with tender, crisp vegetables in the light sauce had a bit of a garlic flavor. It was non-polarizing, as moo goo gai pan should be.
Graham settled for a very good dish of Osaka Chicken Chop ($7.50). Perfectly cooked chicken breast was chopped crosswise with a light brown sesame sauce next to the same mixed veggies we pretty much all enjoyed, only he had more due to a generous brother. I loved his chicken. It was the second-best dish of the day.
Of course I got what I came for. Seoul Bulgogi ($10.99) wasn’t on the lunch menu, but I happily paid the dinner price. I have a lot of favorite dishes in this city. I’ll easily keep this in the top 15, and that’s a big deal for me. This version is thin-sliced beef marinated and cooked with garlic cloves (sliced even thinner) that reach a sweet flavor, imparting earth tones to the meat. A side of kimchi adds the tartness and sting, but remember a little goes a long way. It’s a gorgeous dish. I want someone’s Korean grandmother to show me the secrets of bulgogi. I must learn the ways.
So here’s what we’ve learned: Asian Garden is still shelling out great food. It’s probably better to wait until 1:30 p.m. if you go on Sunday. I don’t know why it took me four years to return, but I won’t wait that long again. You asked me, I checked it out, and it’s still good.
Know any other Korean spots? Clue me in.