Brandon Hernández 9 a.m., Dec. 12
If anything could metaphysically counterbalance the Snooty Asian (hip and in Hillcrest) it would be the Asia Cafe (4710 Market Street, 619-527-1917), which has iron bars on the windows and shares a parking lot with a Chollas View garage.
Nevertheless, Asia Cafe still manages to deliver some tasty Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese food for precious little money. Huge bowls of pho are $5-$6 and the salads, like the precious green papaya salad, are about the same. A huge variety of stir-fried dishes are in the paltry $6-$8 range. Here’s a funny story: the beef with basil shared the English language description with another dish. Exactly. Word for word. As though they contained the same ingredients cooked in the same way. The Lao names for each plate, however, were totally different. At least, they looked that way. I don’t read Lao.
The beef with basil dish, by the way, was quite good. Plain, but tasty enough to satisfy my extremely picky teenage brother, who likes almost nothing and hates much.
A shrimp and squid stir fry, filled with those creepy little baby corns, broccoli, carrots, and cabbage, as absolutely loaded with shrimp, despite the Asia Cafe’s rock bottom prices.
For me, the standout dish was the “crying tiger.” I’ve seen dishes with this name presented half a dozen ways, always involving some sort of spicy meat. Asia Cafe’s was a big plate of spicy, chopped beef laced with mint leaves and green onions. Very good, especially with a little side of white rice.
Sure, the ambiance was a little funky and the older couple who run the place charmingly puttered around without rushing to serve anybody, but being able to load up on Thai/Viet/Lao food for a pittance makes Asia Cafe a lunchtime winner in a somewhat food-deserted end of town.