Hawaii Kitchen

I can’t think of a place in America farther away from Berks County – both physically and culturally – than Hawaii.

Hawaii is a tropical paradise. Berks County sometimes gets hit with a tropical storm. Hawaii is a destination thanks to its pristine beaches. The “beaches” at Blue Marsh Lake just can’t compare.

So the last cuisine I expected to make its way to Berks County was poke bowls, the Hawaiian specialty dish usually consisting of seafood, rice, vegetables and sauce – think a deconstructed sushi roll.

But then Hawaii Kitchen opened in West Reading earlier this year and a piece of the islands arrived in Berks.

Hawaii Kitchen opened earlier this year in the former Petite Milan – a children’s clothing store – in the 500 block of Penn Avenue.

The restaurant is roomier than it looks from the outside. Despite the narrow footprint, Hawaii Kitchen packs in tables of two and four with an additional row of counter seats. It’s not the biggest dining room in West Reading, but it serves its purpose.

There were only a few others seated inside when we arrived on a recent Saturday night – Julie and I with little Jakob in tow. The restaurant’s owner fawned over Jakob when she saw him so I’ll give some bonus points there.

We ordered at the counter and grabbed a table for two at the front window.

The first item to arrive was my avocado salad. It was a simple salad with just three ingredients: mixed greens, avocado and sesame-ginger dressing. But it was absolutely delicious.

I loved the dressing. It was salty; it was a little sweet without the bitter aftertaste of a balsamic. And with the simplicity of the salad, it just worked. It was also more filling than I would have imagined for a side salad, mostly thanks to the avocado.

Our entrees arrived shortly thereafter. Julie was going to be the one to try a bowl, the avo-coco shrimp bowl, a summer special advertised on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

The bowl included mango, strawberry, pineapple, avocado and shrimp tossed in a coconut sauce. This is not a “traditional” poke, but Julie loved it.

Part fruit salad, part poke bowl, it was sweet and bright. Coconut and shrimp are always a winning combination, but the addition of the other fruits – including the avocado – added a little more flavor depth and really helped make it into a real meal. Julie was very surprised by how full she was after finishing it.

I skipped the bowl and went for the restaurant’s other specialty, the sushi burrito.

My first sushi burrito experience came courtesy of Hai Street Kitchen at the King of Prussia Mall. Hai Street has a few more than Hawaii Kitchen for its rolls, but the concept is the same: take sushi and supersize it to eat more like a burrito.

There are five sushi burritos on the menu – all but one of them are seafood based with shrimp, salmon, crab salad or a combination of the three. I skipped the fish and went with the vegetarian option instead.

My “burrito” included tofu, cucumber, avocado, spring mix and sweet chili sauce rolled in purple rice and seaweed wrap.

The purple rice made for great presentation but it was really just rice. And the first bite – mostly tofu and rice – was a bit disappointing. But the second bite hit home with the sweet chili sauce. Eventually all of the flavors started to mingle a little more and every bite was flavorful.

Tofu is mainly just filler, and that was fine with me. The other flavors – especially the delightful sweet chili sauce – were what really mattered.

Neither Julie nor I are experts in poke bowls, sushi or anything else on the menu at the Hawaii Kitchen, but we were both impressed with our meals. Though at $32 – with two bottles of iced tea included – I wouldn’t call it a bargain.

Still, we enjoyed it. And whether or not it was “authentic” doesn’t really matter to us. We liked it.

Also, it’s not like we’re going to Hawaii anytime soon so we’ll just enjoy what we have.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Reasonable

Hawaii Kitchen
510 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian
Chicken and Vegetable Vermicelli Bowl - Lang Restaurant

Lang Restaurant

Lang Restaurant in Reading, PA

When I started the blog in 2014, my experience with Asian cuisine was limited to General Tso’s chicken and other Americanized Chinese foods.

That’s why my first trip to Hong Thanh in Wyomissing was so eye-opening. It was my first taste of Vietnamese cuisine and my first time enjoying an authentic, composed dish (read: something that wasn’t chicken in sauce over rice).

Lang Restaurant in Reading, PA

Hong Thanh was originally located in downtown Reading. Some Sundays after church, Julie and I would drive past the old restaurant. The Hong Thanh name was still written on the window. It looked untouched from the time the restaurant moved to Wyomissing until the day it was announced it was moving back into the city with a new name, Lang Restaurant.

Julie and I visited on a Wednesday evening (the restaurant is open evenings only, Wednesday through Sunday) and were one of just two couples in the restaurant. Two more groups and a few take-out customers came through during our time, but it was definitely a quiet night.

Lang Restaurant in Reading, PA

The dining room is beautiful – a little modern and a little classic, Asian-influenced without being kitschy. It felt like a downtown dining destination should feel like. Only a closer inspection, on the long walk to the men’s room, reveals the plywood wall behind the hostess counter that separates the finished dining area from the rest of the building.

We started our meal with the shredded pork roll – pork wrapped in rice paper with lettuce and peanuts served with Lang dipping sauce.

Shredded Pork Rolls - Lang Restaurant

These were a great start to the meal. The roll itself was very good, if a little chewy, but mixed with the Lang sauce, it took it to another level.

Lang sauce is the house fish sauce, a little spicy with sweet and salty notes. You can see the red pepper flakes, you can taste the ginger. It’s a simple sauce that made the rolls go down easy.

We hadn’t quite finished our appetizers when the entrees arrived. Giant entrees. Entrees big enough to be shared.

Chicken and Vegetable Vermicelli Bowl - Lang Restaurant

I had ordered the grilled chicken and rice vermicelli bowl. On top of the vermicelli noodles were piles of grilled chicken, carrots, snow peas, bean sprouts, broccoli, pickled carrot, and crushed peanuts.

The ingredients were fresh and well-prepared, but it was the Lang sauce that made it a meal. I dipped my fork in the sauce (sadly, I don’t think I will ever be able to properly use chopsticks) before picking up a forkful of the vegetables, chicken or rice noodles. I wanted to make sure that every bite had a little of that delicious sauce.

The meal was painstakingly slow to eat, not because of the dipping, but because all of the vegetables were cooked to al dante. That meant small bites and lots of chewing, but it was worth it to savor such a fine dish.

Crispy Noodle Stir Fry - Lang Restaurant

Julie had a very different noodle dish, the house special crispy lo mein.

Instead of the traditional boiled noodles, the dish featured deep-fried egg noodles with shrimp, chicken, pork and a vegetable medley (red onion, water chestnut, broccoli, green beans and more), stir fried in “brown sauce.”

Crispy Noodle Stir Fry - Lang Restaurant

Brown sauce is typically a combination of soy sauce, broth and other ingredients. It didn’t cover every noodle, but that was just fine as the noodles were very good on their own. Julie also appreciated the fact that the dish came with three different meats because it meant that she didn’t have to choose.

For both of us, more than half of our entrees went home with us for later. Julie was impressed that her noodles remained somewhat crispy even through the reheating process.

As tempting as Vietnamese banana cake and steamed coconut cups sounded, dessert was not in the cards.

Our total at the end of the meal was about $45, which also included a glass of fresh limeade for Julie.

We also spent $2 for parking at the Reed and Court Street Garage ($2 for one hour, and we made it from entry to exit in 58 minutes).

During our meal, we saw co-owner and restaurant namesake Lang Huynh come out and survey the room, the sign of someone dedicated to their craft.

He never approached our table, but if he had, I’d say the same thing I’m saying here. My compliments to the chef.

BCE Rating
Food: Excellent
Ambiance: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Value: Reasonable

Lang Restaurant
22 N. Sixth Street
Reading, PA 19601

Lang Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Masa Sushi & Hibachi

One of the cool things about this blog is I have the opportunity to watch a space evolve as old restaurants move on and new restaurants arrive.

A perfect example of that sits in the center of a strip mall in the Broadcasting Square Shopping Center in Wyomissing.

The space was original home to Super King Buffet – a rather ordinary Chinese buffet. More recently, it was home to Hong Thanh, an inspired Vietnamese restaurant that left the city of Reading only to return to its original location last year (under the new name Lang Restaurant).

Now, the space is home to Masa Hibachi and Sushi. It’s the third Asian restaurant at the location, but that’s where the similarities end.

 

Masa opened at the end of 2017 after a renovation that completely transformed the space. Gone is the booth seating that ran the length of the dining room. Instead, the dining area has been broken up. There are tables for two and four by the window. Beyond that are two hibachi grills, a sushi bar, another bar and more tables.

The hibachi grills were fired up – two young children sat with parents and grandparents, mesmerized at the show of fire and cooking skills – but we skipped the performance to try some of Masa’s other menu items.

Julie’s meal came with a house salad, served with ginger dressing. At first glance, it looked like honey mustard, but looks can be deceiving. The ginger was ever-present in this citrusy dressing. It had a nice tang to it and was very easy on the palate. The dressing really made the difference for what was otherwise a standard bowl of lettuce garnished with a cucumber slice and a pair of cherry tomatoes.

My meal did not come with salad so I ordered a cup of coconut chicken soup. Unfortunately my soup didn’t arrive as an appetizer and instead showed up with our entrees.

I had coconut chicken soup once before, in February 2015 at China Penn in Exeter Township. The two dishes were similar but with some key differences. At China Penn, there was one large piece of chicken and the broth was filled with carrots and herbs.

Masa’s version featured bite size pieces of chicken – as a soup should. There were no carrots, but there were pieces of hard-boiled egg and cherry tomatoes, the latter adding a pleasant flavor burst in those bites. The broth itself was very good, if a little sweet. I only wish that I wasn’t eating it with my main course.

That main course was a yaki udon stir fry. Yaki literally means grilled or fried in Japanese. Udon noodles are thicker, white colored noodles. The sauce for yaki udon is soy-based, but this was not soy sauce. It was light sauce that was much less salty than I was expecting from an Asian stir-fry.

Noodle dishes at Masa are served with the choice of vegetable, chicken, beef, shrimp, seafood, or “house.” I went with the beef, which was cooked in the sauce with the noodles, greens and carrots. It was a nice dish, but the size of the udon noodles made it almost impossible to get anything else on the fork.

Some of it – a little less than half – went home with me for lunch the next day.

Julie, on the other hand, left none of her sesame chicken and rice when she was finished.

Sesame chicken is a staple of Americanized Chinese food menus. There is something about getting sesame chicken served on a plate instead of in a box that seems to add flavor. Or maybe this was just a better version of the dish. But it still felt familiar like the comfort food that it is.

The meal may have been slightly more expensive than a Chinese take-out restaurant, but the $30 price tag was certainly a modest cost for a sit-down meal for two that included a bowl of soup and two soft drinks.

I wouldn’t put it among the best meals that I have had on Berks County Eats, but overall, I was impressed – both by the changes made to the space and with the dining experience at Masa. It was a good meal in a cool atmosphere.

But in this case, good is good enough.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Reasonable

Masa Hibachi & Sushi
2733 Papermill Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Masa Hibachi and Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Pho House

Berks County has seen its restaurant scene grow by leaps and bounds over the past three-and-a-half years since I started doing regular reviews on this blog.

In that time, I have tried to visit as many of the new restaurants as I can, but some have just slipped through.

One of those restaurants that I had missed, the Pho House in Wyomissing, I can now cross off my list.

It’s been two years since the Pho House opened in the former Alebrije, in a strip mall that also houses Laxmi’s Indian Grille and one of two locations for the Original Mama’s Pizza. Of the three, the Pho House occupies the largest space spanning multiple storefronts on the far right side of the strip.

There are booths on either side of the spacious dining room with tables throughout the center. Paintings hang on the walls on either side, but there’s nothing truly remarkable about the decor – that is to say that the Pho House is decidedly non-stereotypical in the decor.

When it comes to the menu, it is distinctly Vietnamese – 19 different varieties of pho, eight rice platters, 10 vermicelli bowls and an assortment of noodle dishes.

Of course, when you visit a restaurant called the Pho House, the only real question is “what kind of pho do I want?”

Five different cuts of beef – eye-round, brisket, flank steak, meatballs and tendon – are available as add-ins for the pho. Choose one or mix-and-match. (Chicken, shrimp and tofu are also available).

All pho dishes are also serve with a mound of bean sprouts to add to the dish. These were delivered to the table first, awaiting their brothy bath.

For my protein, I chose flank steak and brisket. I grabbed a healthy handful of bean sprouts and tossed them in to the mix before taking my first bite.

The thin slices of flank and brisket was almost interchangeable – the brisket having just a little more fat around the edges. Otherwise, they had much the same flavor when mixed with the broth.

Pho is traditionally served with rice noodles, and the Pho House certainly does not skimp. There had to be three or four servings of noodles bundled at the bottom of the bowl so there were plenty of noodles in every bite.

It was definitely a hearty dish and very enjoyable. Scallions, salt and pepper provided much of the flavor for the dish, and the noodles soaked up every bit.

Julie’s combination of eye-round and tendon was also good, though her meat was a lot fattier than my own. Otherwise, it was the same dish as my own (though she didn’t add any bean sprouts).

We had also ordered some Vietnamese eggrolls as an appetizer, but the service was so fast that everything came out together.

I don’t know that there was anything distinctly Vietnamese about them, but they were different from other eggrolls, mostly thanks for a thinner, crispier outer shell. The dipping sauce they were served with made all the difference. It was like a duck sauce but with some additional spices thrown in. If only we had ordered a few more.

I mentioned the speed with which our food was delivered. We were finished with our meals, check in hand and asking for two to-go containers within a half-hour of our arrival.

Pho is a great comfort dish that I do not get to eat often enough. Two years was way too long to wait for a visit to the Pho House.

And I still have a lot more catching up to do. I wonder what else I have been missing?

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Excellent
Ambiance: Good
Price: reasonable

Pho House
1816 State Hill Road
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Pho House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Zhuang’s Garden

If you drive through West Lawn regularly, you may have noticed the recent facelift for Zhuang’s Garden.

The restaurant along Penn Avenue has a brand new entrance and new signage above the door. It’s a more inviting look, one that looked inviting enough to go for dinner.

I had never been to Zhuang’s Garden. The first thing I noticed was that there was much more parking than I had expected along the side of the building. And upon arriving for an early dinner (just after 5 p.m.) I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of those spaces were taken.

We were seated right away in a four-person booth. Those booths made up most of the seating in the restaurant. The building looks narrow from the outside, but there is plenty of seating, mostly booths with a few tables.

The meal started with an unexpected appetizer of fried noodles and duck sauce.

I say unexpected because none of the other Asian restaurants we have visited on Berks County Eats has offered them to us.

And it was a pleasant surprise. We both love the addicting fried bites but never order them. It was certainly nice to have something to munch on until the food arrived.

Julie had her mind set before we arrived that she was going to have egg drop soup. It arrived in short order.

I have never been an egg drop soup fan, but it’s something that Julie has always liked. And she was a fan of this one – brothy with plenty of egg drops.

I skipped the appetizers and prepared myself for my main entree: banana chicken.

The banana chicken is one of the best Asian dishes that I have tried anywhere. The chicken was fried like a sweet-and-sour chicken would be. It was tossed with bananas, bell peppers, water chestnuts, snow peas and bamboo shoots in what was described on the menu as a “delicious brown sauce.”

I don’t know what constitutes brown sauce, but it was delicious. One thing the sauce did pick up was the flavor of the bananas. Every bite had that distinct sweetness. And unlike a standard orange chicken that is all glaze, this was true flavor.

I have zero complaints about the dish, but I have to say that it was such a complete dish that I mostly forgot about the cup of rice that was served on the side. And though I do enjoy rice with my stir-fry meals, I didn’t miss it at all.

Julie’s meal was more traditional – shrimp lo mein.

That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable. It was. The lo mein noodles were cooked well and there were plenty of shrimp pieces to create a hearty dish.

It was too hearty to finish in one meal. About half of it came home with us for later.

Zhuang’s Garden was also a great value. With a $25 price tag, we both felt like we had more than our money’s worth.

It was a very good meal with great food and quick service.

And all it took to get me through the door was a little remodeling.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Very Reasonable

Zhuang’s Garden
2834 Penn Ave
West Lawn, PA 19609

Zhuang's Garden Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Haiku Hibachi & Sushi

haiku-hibachi

Late in 2015, a new restaurant appeared on the scene that was quite…different.

Located in a former fast food restaurant along the Fifth Street Highway – directly across the street from Jumbo China Buffet – Haiku Hibachi & Sushi brought something completely new to Berks County: drive-thru hibachi.

A drive-thru hibachi is certainly a unique concept, a one-of-a-kind experience in our region, if not beyond.

There is a dining room at Haiku, but it’s the window — a leftover from the Taco Bell that once occupied the space — that sets this apart from Berks County’s many Asian inspired restaurants.

haiku-hibachi-online-ordering-1

Anyone who wants to take advantage of the drive-thru service has two options: order in line or place it  ahead of time and use the window for pick-up. We decided to use the online ordering system to place our order.

It’s a very convenient system. The entire menu is available and customizable. For example, if you order steak, you can choose how you want it prepared. You can choose the type of roll for your sushi. You can ask to hold the onions (though why anyone would do that, I have no idea).

At the end of the process, it asks for your payment method. Haiku doesn’t accept online payments. The options are cash and credit upon pick-up or a phone call for a credit card. This saves the customer money because there’s no commission or online processing fees tacked on to the bill.

Once finished, a message flashed on the screen saying my order would be ready in 15 minutes.

haiku-hibachi-online-ordering-2

Then I was given the option to boast on Facebook about placing my order.

I drove from my home base in Wyomissing to the restaurant along the Fifth Street Highway with no problem getting there before the 15 minutes were up.

My biggest problem was finding the entrance to the drive-thru lane. In an inherited design quirk, the drive-thru lane is surrounded by curbs on either side so it’s completely inaccessible from the dine-in parking.

haiku-hibachi-drive-thru

I pulled up to the microphone and menu board, told them my name and that I was here to pick up an order and was ushered around to the window where I had just a short wait while the car in front of me, who obviously had not ordered ahead, sat idling while the driver’s food was prepared.

After getting my order, I brought it home and opened up the to-go bags. I have to give it to Haiku because the presentation was outstanding.

haiku-hibachi-chicken-hibachi-and-rice

Our hibachi dinners were compartmentalized. For mine, my chicken, fried rice and vegetables were all separated. There was nothing to do but dump everything onto one plate and dug in.

It was delicious. This was not fast food, this was a real hibachi-cooked dinner. The sauce for the chicken was thick, sweet and salty. The rice was done perfectly. And the vegetables were a beautiful al dente.

It all worked. I couldn’t believe that this came from a drive-thru window.

haiku-hibachi-steak-hibachi-and-noodles

Julie took full advantage of the order customization for her dinner, choosing steak (and opting for well-done) and an upgrade from rice to noodles.

It was the same delicious sauce, this time with perfectly cooked steak meat. The noodles were nicely done as well for a complete, enjoyable meal.

But Haiku doesn’t stop with hibachi. As the name suggests, there’s also sushi.

haiku-hibachi-sushi

Neither Julie nor I are willing to take the plunge into raw sushi, but there are plenty of cooked sushi rolls to enjoy from haiku. We ordered two: shrimp tempura rolls and sweet potato rolls (don’t judge me, I’m still very much Pennsylvania Dutch).

Both were fantastic. At Haiku, all of the sushi is rolled to order so all of the flavors are fresh and vibrant. The rice-covered slices were the perfect size for an appetizer or side dish and we had no problem finishing off all 11 of them.

One of the great things about Haiku’s concept is the price. By skipping the tableside hibachi presentation (once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all) and focusing strictly on food, the price comes down dramatically. Our total dinner cost came in at about $25.

By comparison, our meal at Tokyo Hibachi two years ago cost $44.

There’s room in Berks County for both concepts, but for this frugal eater, give me the convenience, value and quality of Haiku Hibachi & Sushi.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Excellent
Ambiance: Fair
Price: Very Reasonable

Haiku Hibachi & Sushi
3215 N. 5th Street Highway
Reading, PA 19605

Haiku Hibachi & Sushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews
Mikura was named Best Chinese in Berks.

Mikura Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar

mikura-exterior

Since starting weekly blogs in 2014, I don’t get much opportunity to make return visits to restaurants. It’s much more exciting to try someplace new than revisit the old.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like the places that I visited in the past. I just have to be more selective with where I go on a weekly basis.

One of the restaurants that I haven’t been able to visit in a long time is Mikura Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar.

I first visited Mikura almost four years ago, not long after it opened in a strip mall along North Park Road in Wyomissing. At the time, I was able to get there for the small weekday lunch buffet. I had enjoyed my meal but never had a chance to return, despite the fact that it’s just a five-minute walk from my house.

mikura-interior

So finally, after Julie and I had taken countless walks past the restaurant, we stopped for dinner.

There are two sections to the restaurant. The main dining room and sushi bar are on the left. To the right is the hibachi space (where the lunch buffet was on my visit).

Mikura was actually the second restaurant for the owner of China Penn, and it shows with the extensive menu.

It includes a combination of Chinese, Japanese and Thai dishes. It’s great until you have to make a decision.

mikura-smoothies

Thankfully Julie and I had one easy decision: smoothies. (We did walk there so we could afford a few extra calories). I’m not sure why so many Asian restaurants that I’ve visited offer smoothies, but I’m not going to complain about it because we always enjoy them.

Dinner was a harder decision. After looking through everything at least three times, I settled on the Thai Panang curry.

mikura-thai-panang-curry

I’m not an expert by any means, but the dish didn’t look like curry to me. It was very thin in texture and a lot lighter in color than any I have seen before. The lighter color was owing to the coconut milk base, but even Panang curry usually has a reddish brown tint to it.

That’s not to say that it didn’t look appealing in its own way. The chicken, broccoli, snap peas and peppers all looked appetizing, especially with the red chili flakes.

The coconut milk and the chili were definitely the predominant flavors. It was spicy, especially the after taste. I was glad to have my smoothie handy to cool down after every bite.

mikura-thai-mango-shrimp

Julie also went with a Thai-inspired dish, the Thai mango shrimp. The shrimp and mango were stir-fried with snow peas, bell peppers and asparagus in a mango sauce.

All of the ingredients were slathered in a glaze-like sauce, but it was the mango that provided most of the flavor, complimenting the shrimp quite nicely. The vegetables, cooked to al dente, added a crunchy texture.

Both of our entrees were served with a bowl of white rice on the side, which was very helpful in sopping up the runny sauces.

It was a good meal and the service was very quick. We were in and out in less than an hour.

mikura-check

Our smoothies made it a little pricier than it otherwise would have been. The final bill was nearly $40, but $10 of that was the smoothies.

I was glad to finally make a return trip to Mikura. We both enjoyed our meals and look forward to returning again. And with such a large menu, there are plenty more dishes to enjoy.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Reasonable

Mikura Asian Bistro & Sushi Bar
840 N. Park Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Mikura Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Jumbo China Buffet

jumbo-buffet

We all have our guilty pleasures in life. As a food blogger, my guilty pleasures revolve around meals that most food bloggers would be ashamed to eat.

One of my guilty pleasures is the Jumbo China Buffet along the 5th Street Highway near Fairgrounds Square Mall.

The buffet is the largest buffet of any kind in Berks County with 10 stations to navigate and what looks like enough seating for a few hundred people.

Buffets of any kind are hit or miss. If you go when it’s not busy, you risk food that sits for a while. So unlike a sit-down restaurant where the service should be better during off-peak hours, you want to visit a buffet at its busiest.

I went with a friend of mine on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, and it was definitely busy.

jumbo-buffet-1

Jumbo Buffet tries to be everything to everyone. In addition to the Asian staples, they offer a wide range of American comfort food. There’s a carving station with fresh-cooked sausage and ham. And plenty of hot bar items including fried chicken, pizza, and fries. I’ve never tried any of these items myself, but I always see people filling their plates with them.

in the back of the buffet area is the hibachi, where you can create your own stir-fry from a selection of seafood, meats, vegetables and lo mein.

I have a system when I go to Jumbo: three trips to the buffet, twice for dinner and once for dessert. And I always end up with similar plates from one trip to the next.

jumbo-buffet-plate-1

Fried rice and chicken with broccoli are my two staples for the first plate. These are two items that are always done right when I go. The rice is always bright yellow and has just enough vegetables (a few peas and some onions) that I can convince myself that it’s good for me. Same with the chicken and broccoli. While it’s doused in a tasty soy sauce that has no nutritional value, it has white meat and vegetables so it can’t be all bad.

From there, I’ll build out with whatever looks interesting. On this trip, that was a pork dumpling and a little chicken in garlic sauce. The dumplings are always their best when they are first delivered. With no sauce to soak in, they don’t hold as well on the hot bar as other items. But when they’re fresh, they are delicious, especially with a little drizzle of ginger sauce to help them go down.

The chicken in garlic sauce is very much like the chicken and broccoli but with the addition of more vegetables (the occasional carrot or onion) and a stronger taste of garlic. And I can never have enough garlic.

jumbo-buffet-plate-2

Plate number two begins with the classic General Tso’s chicken. Jumbo’s version is a little hotter than others, but it’s not overbearing. There’s plenty of sweetness to help cut through the heat. And it’s always a popular item so you know it will be fresh every time.

Adding to my second plate, I opted for sweet and sour chicken, a vegetable egg roll and the very non-Chinese dish of fried plantains.

The sweet and sour chicken is always good, but not much different than any others you’ll find throughout the county. It’s the same lightly breaded, fried chicken pieces and the same red sauce. Similarly, the egg roll isn’t much different than anywhere else. Like the dumplings, it’s always better when it’s fresh out of the kitchen.

The plantains don’t fit with the rest of the meal, but I didn’t care. I love plantains and I’ll grab some off any buffet that has them.

jumbo-buffet-dessert

After two trips to the hot bar, I venture up for dessert. I tend to connect with my inner child when I go to Jumbo because dessert always includes soft serve ice cream. It’s always vanilla and chocolate mix for me.  I also found banana with strawberry syrup on the dessert bar so I added that to my plate. It’s not fancy, but I like bananas and I like strawberry syrup so I went for it.

jumbo-buffet-donut

Dessert includes one last item, the guiltiest of pleasures, the fried donut. The fried piece of dough, rolled in sugar, is something I look forward to on every trip. These treats just melt in your mouth. I always make sure it’s the last thing I taste before I walk out the door.

The great thing about the buffet is that it’s quick and cheap. We were in and out of the restaurant in about a half-hour, spending $15 per person for a hefty meal.

It’s not glamorous or fancy, but Jumbo China Buffet will always be one of my favorites, even if I feel a little guilty about it.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Reasonable

Jumbo China Buffet
3252 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Jumbo China Buffet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian & Pacific Islands Buffets Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Vietnamese Delights

vietnamese-delights

It had been nearly a year — nine months to be exact — since my last trip to the Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

I love browsing the aisles of vendors and dine-in restaurants, but I never make it there as often as I would like. The Farmers Market of Wyomissing is just so convenient that a trip to Muhlenberg takes extra planning.

That planning came together, and last Friday when we made an evening drive to Fairgrounds with one stand in mind: Vietnamese Delights.

The Fairgrounds Farmers Market already offered a diverse selection of foods before Vietnamese Delights opened in 2013. Italian, Greek, German and Pennsylvania Dutch were all well-represented, but Vietnamese Delights brought an Asian flair that was missing from the global market.

Located in the southwest corner of the market, Vietnamese Delights offers its own little seating area. This makes it one of the few stands that will actually deliver your meal to your table (you still order at the counter so it’s not quite a full-service restaurant).

vietnamese-delights-honeydew-bubble-tea

First to arrive were our two bubble teas: mango flavored for Julie and honeydew for me. More smoothie than tea, the drinks are creamy with (optional) tapioca balls dropped in the bottom.

vietnamese-delights-mango-bubble-tea

As you would guess, the drinks are extremely refreshing. My honeydew had that light sweetness of the melon that makes it so enjoyable. The mango flavor was strong and very sweet to the point of being more like dessert.

vietnamese-delights-pho-add-ins

Next to arrive at the table were the add-ins for Julie’s pho, the brothy Vietnamese noodle soup. While the noodles and beef were cooked in the broth, a plate of bean shoots, basil, lime and jalapeno pepper were served separately.

The pho followed shortly behind. The large bowl was filled with hearty slices of beef, chopped shallots, onions and a heaping mound of rice noodles.

vietnamese-delights-beef-pho

Rice noodles are an acquired taste for a Dutchman raised on the thicker, heartier egg noodles. The advantage of thin strands is that they absorb flavors well, soaking up the broth in every bite. Julie managed to finish most of her soup, polishing off all of the meat and leaving just a little broth and some loose noodles at the bottom of the bowl.

My meal was the last to arrive being the most involved of the two. I ordered the broken rice platter: a plate of white rice with pork done three ways (steamed, grilled and shredded), a fried egg, a cucumber and lettuce salad, and a dish of garlic fish sauce.

vietnamese-delights-broken-rice-platter

The best part about the plate was the shredded pork. Even though it was served cold, it was easily the most enjoyable of the three. It just melts in your mouth with a sweet flavor that isn’t barbecue, but is close enough to be enjoyable.

The grilled and steamed pork were served atop the bed of white rice. They had a nice peppery flavor that I really enjoyed. The egg felt a little out of place — I’m used to it being fried with the rice, not on top — but once I opened it up and started eating with the rice and pork, it all came together nicely.

As much as I love garlic, I was not a fan of the fish sauce. I much preferred the chili sauce that was sitting on each of the tables.

vietnamese-delights-bubble-tea-empty

I was able to finish everything on plate (not counting the fish sauce), but what neither Julie nor I were able to finish were all of the tapioca balls in the bottom of our smoothies. With the consistency of gummies, they just got to be too much work after the bubble tea was gone. In hindsight, we would probably get it without tapioca next time.

All in all though, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. At $30 it was a little more expensive than we had originally planned, but a lot of that came down to the indulgence of our $5 bubble teas.

We were able to squeeze in a little shopping before closing time, but we really didn’t need much else at the market.

Vietnamese Delights was the real reason we went, and it was certainly worth the trip.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Good
Price: Reasonable

Vietnamese Delights
2934 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Vietnamese Delights Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian & Pacific Islands Farmers Market Meals Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Chen Vegetarian House

chen-vegetarian-house

It is very hard for a Chinese restaurant to set itself apart. With so much competition—it seems as though there is at least one in every town—there has to be something unique, a hook that separates it from the pack.

One West Reading restaurant found a way to make its mark on the Berks County food scene by taking Chinese food in a new direction by giving it a vegetarian twist and making it more healthy.

That’s what makes Chen Vegetarian House different from the rest.

In addition to healthful foods, Chen offers a range of healthful drink options including 18 fruit and vegetable juices, five dairy-free smoothie flavors, and four kinds of hot teas.

chen-vegetarian-house-papaya-smoothie

I was craving something sweet so I went with a papaya smoothie. Papaya has always been one of my favorite fruit flavors, but it’s one that isn’t readily available. The fruit has a light sweetness, a perfect base for a refreshing drink.

chen-vegetarian-house-apple-pineapple-ginger-juice

Of the 18 juice bar options, more than half start with carrot. The rest are pure fruit, most mixed with ginger to add a little spice to the sweetness. Julie’s juice cocktail was a combination of apple and pineapple with a hint of ginger.

Chen Vegetarian House has some familiar sounding entrees on its menu: General Tso’s chicken, beef teriyaki, and sweet and sour chicken. But as a vegetarian restaurant, all of the “meat” is made from soy  and wheat. The shapes and textures are meant to resemble the real thing because sesame chicken sounds a whole lot more appealing than sesame tofu.

My original plan was to try the vegetarian version of General Tso’s, but the description of the mango chicken sounded so good that I changed my plans. And it was the right decision.

chen-vegetarian-house-mango-chicken

The dish included strips of mango, “chicken,” onions and peppers tossed in citrus sauce and served inside a mango shell. The best part of the dish was the fresh mango, which took center stage over the tofu that was there strictly to absorb the sweet sauce and make the dish more filling.

I was actually happy that there was no meat in this dish because chicken would have made it too heavy. It was hard enough to finish the giant plate of food as it was, but I couldn’t let any of it go to waste.

chen-vegetarian-house-orange-beef

Across the table from me, Julie went with the orange flavored beef. The tofu in this case was made to look and feel more like strips of steak and served atop a bed of broccoli. The orange tangerine glaze was thick and stuck to the tofu.

The flavor was spot on, sweet and tangy with just a little spice. The tofu came close to the right consistency, though it was a little chewier, closer to beef jerky than steak. Still, it was a great dish, one that Julie got two meals out of (it was just as good heated up as it was fresh, the mark of good Chinese food).

Not only are Chen’s dishes comparable to its meatier counterparts, but the prices are similar as well. Entrees are all in the $10-12 range. Our two specialty drinks put our final bill right at the $30 mark.

Chen Vegetarian House is truly unique in Berks County, a place that serves one-of-a-kind dishes not found anywhere else around.

And it’s meals like this that make Chen as good as, if not better than, all of the other Chinese restaurants out there.

BCE Rating
Food: Excellent
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Fair
Price: Very Reasonable

Chen Vegetarian House
709 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Chen Vegetarian House on Urbanspoon

Asian & Pacific Islands Lunch & Dinner Reviews Vegan & Vegetarian