Boba tea shops, bánh mì delis, a bustling Asia grocery—Asia Times Square is a microcosm of the Asian community and its many cuisines nestled on the edge of Grand Prairie and Arlington. It’s not too unlike a Chinatown, but in the form of a sprawling plaza.
A traditional Chinatown scene might entail Asian elders crowded around a communal mahjong table while the aroma of something deliciously shrimpy wafts through the air. Chinatowns are typically dense urban zones where a whole compendium of cuisines await: Korean barbecue, Mongolian hot pot, dim sum, noodle shops, pho, teriyaki. (Obviously “Chinatown” is a misnomer considering the wide array of Asian representation. But I digress.)
North Texas, though, is vast and varied—much like the people who live and eat in these parts. Here, delectable dumpling joints are spread out. Jeng Chi and Kirin Court are two dumpling mainstays in Richardson. Kitchen Master in Frisco already has a loyal following after only opening last summer. Wu Wei Din in Plano has the xiao long bao game locked in. Perhaps the dumpling sprawl is a blessing in disguise—no need to drive to Dallas’ dining epicenter when you can find steamed bao in your own neck of the foodie woods.
One of the largest Asian markets in Texas, Asia Times Square has long provided a concentration of sustenance and comfort food to the area. Its latest food destination is a dining corridor tucked in between Hong Kong Market and Bambu Desserts, offering five new additions well worth the drive.
Omakase To-Go assembles rows of fresh-made sushi rolls for takeout. (Be warned, preorders fill up fast.) Beard Papa bakes custard-filled Japanese-style eclairs. Order green tea with strawberry pastry cream or honey butter with chocolate, you won’t regret it. Then there’s Apsara Thai and Cambodian, Sakari Ramen, and Meccha Matcha. All three are owned by Joseph Be, who grew up in Arlington.
Last December, Be debuted his restaurants, whose arrivals were actually delayed about a year due to the pandemic. “It just so happened that everything came at the same time, so I decided to give it a try,” he says. So when he got the opportunity to open three restaurants in a food court at Asia Times Square, he took it.
“My family is from Cambodia and opening up a Cambodian restaurant had always been a dream of mine for some reason,” Be says. He’s partial to Cambodia’s street-style eats, like lort cha, a stir fry made with short rice pin noodles. “You can hardly find it here and I hope Cambodian cuisine can be just as popular as others like Vietnamese, Thai, and Lao food.”
Be reports that most of the recipes come from his mom. “I took the recipes and tried to scale it up. There’s some ingredients that are really hard to find. It wasn’t easy. There was a lot of trial and error. The bigger the batch, the more mistakes you can make.” Bai mon, a Cambodian take on Hainanese poached chicken with rice, is another favorite. At Aspara, it’s punched up with more aromatics and a Cambodian-style fish sauce.
Aspara is perhaps the first of many. Be wants to bring more Southeast Asian flavors, especially through Cambodian cuisine, to the DFW area. “If it does well, I want to open more locations.”
Apsara delivers both Cambodian and Thai dishes right next to Sakari, whose Japanese fare ranges from creamy tonkotsu ramen to okonomiyaki-style French fries to panko-breaded oyster katsu. An avid ramen lover, Be says opening a ramen shop was always a part of his restaurant checklist. One counter over, Meccha Matcha dispenses twisted mounds of green tea soft serve—do swirl it with the ube ice cream.
Be’s first-ever project was a Meccha Matcha location in Plano that opened in 2018. But it will shutter this month. As the familiar tune goes, the lease was up, foot traffic has been scant since COVID, so he’s closing but looking for a new space within the Plano or North Dallas area. Its final day is, heart-breakingly, February 14. (The Meccha Matcha at Asia Times Square isn’t going anywhere soon.)
It’s a good reminder to support your local Asian restaurants, which have seen a dismal dip in traffic since the beginning of COVID. They’ve not only dealt with a shortfall in sales, but an uptick in harassment. The Dallas Morning News reported on the increase of anti-Asian violence locally and throughout Texas. An organization called Stop AAPI Hate collected incidents of self-reported hate crimes which showed incidents in Dallas, among other major Texas cities. Although those reports are from 2020, the nationwide spikes—from California to New York—continue to rise.
All this to say, if you appreciate Asian restaurants, remember to extend that regard to the people behind them. Restaurant owners like Be have lifelong dreams to serve the food their mothers cooked for them. Maybe it’s Khmer-style beef sausages, or a steaming hot plate of garlicky dry ramen, broth-less yet swimming in flavor and garnished with fish cake and braised pork belly.
Food is always connected to a sense of place, whether that’s as far away as Cambodia or a food court in Grand Prairie.
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