One of the main goals of this column is to turn people onto new things. Whether it’s a cuisine totally foreign to your palate, or a dish you never would have thought of trying, it’s exciting to stumble upon new places and then set you off on a gasto-adventure of your own.
Located in the tiny former Original Sab-E-Lee location, Thai Papaya recently debuted (under the same ownership) with a noodle-centric menu of Northern Thai and Laotian specialties. According to our server, the most popular dishes include khao soi - a rich, coconut curry soup loaded with kaffir lime and your choice of rice or egg noodles; and the restaurant’s extensive selection of green papaya salads ranging in toppings from toasted peanuts to salt-cured egg. By the way, if you typically shy away from fish sauce, the application here isn’t nearly as aggressive as other Northern Thai eateries in town, so open your mind and keep pushing the limits of your taste buds; it’s good for you.
A more mainstream hit at Thai Papaya - listed as a new special on the menu board - is the green curry that comes with your choice of rice, or over vermicelli noodles. I went with the latter, and slurped my way to heaven with its rich, complex flavors and silky, fun-to-eat noodles.
The intriguing sounding fried chicken comes in whole or half bird ($18/$10) and shows promise, with crispy skin, brined flesh and a divine sweet chili sauce for dipping, but turned out overcooked and on the dry side. However, if Thai Papaya manages to perfect this menu item, they’ll have fried chicken fiends visiting from all over town. Hint, hint: We need this in our lives.
2405 Ulric St., Linda Vista. (619) 279-6868
Dumpling Inn Shanghai Saloon
The original Dumpling Inn was tiny, always packed and had an impossible wait at peak hours. This is what happens when you’re a certifiable hole-in-the-wall, and word gets out that your xiao long bao game is strong.
Inside the same strip mall, a once shady looking grocery store got a major makeover and is the new home to Dumpling Inn’s wildly different concept that thankfully kept its former menu intact. The complete opposite of their last digs, which didn’t serve alcohol, this gargantuan place serves up whiskey cocktails and local craft beers in a kitschy sports bar setting.
But the price is totally right on the over-the-top savory “soup dumplings,” served in the bamboo basket in which they were steamed, filled with ultra rich ground pork, pork broth, and topped with julienned pickled ginger. The pan-fried pork pot stickers, along with the shrimp steamed dumplings, are also worthy of your craving for Chinese food.
4625 Convoy St., Kearny Mesa. (858) 268-9638
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at email@example.com.