Downtown Bellevue is packed with great Asian restaurants, with famous international chains like Haidilao, Din Tai Fung and The Dolar Shop set amid high-rise office buildings and apartments. But about 3 ½ miles east is another worthy Asian food destination: the Crossroads and Highlands neighborhoods.
The heart of this Asian food mecca is probably the Bellevue Marketplace shopping center, which hosts 13 Asian restaurants, a location of the Japanese Fuji Bakery, the Taiwanese 85°C Bakery Cafe, the Asian Family Market grocery store and India Supermarket.
So, if you’re dining in the area, you can stock your pantry, too. I bought some soy-marinated eggs and suimi yacai (Sichuan pickled mustard stems) from Asian Family Market and some chatpata dal (crunchy lentil snacks) from India Supermarket on my last visit.
It’s hard to choose from the dozens of restaurants in the neighborhoods, but here are three good options that show the diversity of Asian food in the area.
11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Thursday-Tuesday; 14603 N.E. 20th St., Bellevue; mongacafe.com
MonGa Cafe serves a fantastic array of Taiwanese dishes out of its Bellevue Marketplace restaurant. It’s a good spot to eat well on a budget, with combos that include noodle and rice dishes with multiple sides for under $20. The restaurant also offers a dessert and drinks menu, with milk tea, hot tea lattes, iced tea and Taiwanese desserts like shaved ice and taro soup topped with grass jelly, red beans and rice balls.
The restaurant serves a good rendition of Taiwan’s famous beef noodle soup ($12.99), with a complex but light broth filled with beef flavor — a server at the restaurant says it’s made from beef bones, tendon and tripe with spices. The pickled mustard greens on top add a nice tang to the slippery wheat noodles and the thick slices of tender beef shank. It can be upgraded to a combo with two sides for $18.99.
And the MonGa Combo ($14.99) is a fantastic deal, coming with lu rou fan (braised pork belly over rice), pork meatball soup and two sides. The options for the sides are spicy pig ear, shredded potato, braised tofu, bean curd, braised egg, seaweed, braised napa cabbage, spiced peanuts, pickled mustard greens and pickled cucumbers.
I went with the pig ear and pickled mustard greens and was ecstatic with my choices. The pig ears were the perfect texture — not too gelatinous and soft, not too crunchy — and had a wonderful warm toasted chili flavor. The pickled mustard greens were the perfect companions to the sweet, fatty pieces of shredded pork belly on the lu rou fan.
But surprisingly, my favorite part of the combo was the simple-looking pork meatball soup. The flavor of the pork and chicken bone broth, unhindered by any noticeable spices, was comforting and healing, exactly what I needed on a cold fall day.
11:30 a.m.-9:45 p.m. daily; 15259 Bel-Red Road, Bellevue; bellevuechaathouse.com/dosa-house
Dosa House owner Ajay Kumar says he owns the only Indian fast-food restaurants in the Seattle area: Chaat House, Curry House and Dosa House. They’re also all 100% vegetarian and all in Bellevue. He says he opened his restaurants because there are tons of vegetarian Indian people in Bellevue but few vegetarian Indian options.
Chaat House is across the parking lot from MonGa; Dosa House is about a half-mile east; and Curry House is about a half-mile north in Redmond.
Kumar seems to know his market. At 9 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, Dosa House was packed with people eating dosas, chaat and Indochinese noodle dishes while others streamed in and out with to-go boxes. And everybody besides me looked like they had Indian ancestry.
The appeal of Dosa House is undeniable. The prices are low, the food is greasy and delicious, and you get your food nearly as quickly as you would at a drive-thru.
For $8.99, I got a large dosa (sour fermented rice and lentil crêpe) filled with a generous portion of potato masala (spiced mashed potato) with tomato, coconut and peanut chutneys, a side of sambar (lentil soup) and kheer (sweet milk with vermicelli) for dessert. The dosa was crispy. The sambar was satisfying. The chutneys were delicious.
And the Indochinese dishes on the menu (Indian-Chinese food is popular in India and available at a couple of places around the Seattle area) were also extremely craveable.
My favorite of these was the “Schezwan Noodle Dosa,” ($10.99), which joins tangy, spicy chow mein with crunchy cabbage and carrots and crispy dosa for an unbeatable textural combination.
11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 15920 N.E. Eighth St., #7, Bellevue; sotastyusa.com
So Tasty sells fried chicken and build-your-own soup bowls from a strip mall on the far east side of the Crossroads neighborhood.
The website claims the restaurant has the best fried chicken in Washington. And though I haven’t eaten enough fried chicken in Washington to back up the claim, the batter here is crispy and the meat is juicy.
But the real draw of So Tasty is the build-your-own soup bowls ($11.95). Broth options include “original” (pork and chicken broth), spicy and kimchi. Starch options are a side of rice, rice noodles or “instant noodles” (wheat noodles). All bowls come with a beef ball, Spam, a stick of imitation crab, a chunk of corn on the cob, bean curd, tofu, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage and napa cabbage. But you can add extra meat or seafood for around $5.
The owner says the most popular broths are spicy broth (Sichuan mala) and the pickled cabbage broth (the style you’d find in the pickled cabbage dish at the nearby Buerjia Chinese Sauerkraut Fish restaurant).
But when I went, I ordered the original, which had a simple, comforting broth like that of the pork meatball soup at MonGa, and the kimchi, which was tangy and spicy.
Regardless of the broth and meat you choose, expect a large meal with astounding textural diversity from all the meats and veggies.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the Crossroads neighborhood is located east of downtown Bellevue, not west as previously stated.
This story has been updated to more accurately describe the components of masala dosa.