A styrofoam container with a stir-fry, including chicken, carrot, green beans, onion and red and green bell peppers from Eve's Thai Kitchen

Review: Eve’s Thai Kitchen

A look at the owners working behind the counter at Eve's Thai Kitchen

In the last two years, I have found myself more and more at the Shillington Farmers Market. The Farmers Market of Wyomissing – just a few blocks from our house – is still our go-to for our fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy, but it just can’t compare with Shillington when it comes to take-out meals.

Brocmar Smokehouse has been one of my favorites since it opened. Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe is always good. And we even enjoyed our simple breakfast we tried at the Market Cafe.

Last year, the market added a new stand that brought even more variety to the market: Eve’s Thai Kitchen.

The Specials of the Day sign at Eve's Thai Kitchen with menu items written in colored chalk

Eve’s Thai Kitchen opened in May, offering a selection of made-to-order dishes from southeast Asia. The menu is limited but still offers variety with both noodle and rice dishes and appetizers that include spring rolls, cheese rolls, soup and chicken satay.

Like most farmers market stands, Eve’s has a pretty simple setup. Guests order at the counter and wait, either hanging out until the food is ready or making a couple stops around the market while the food is prepared. Eve’s does have the advantage of having two dedicated tables with six chairs across the aisle.

Pineapple fried rice with chicken, broccoli and carrot from Eve's Thai Kitchen

I made my first visit to Eve’s back in August and was very impressed with both the service and my order of pineapple fried rice with chicken.

The dish is a great blend of savory and sweet. The pineapple is wonderful and the fruit definitely stars in the dish. But there are more hits of sweetness from the dried cranberries that were mixed in. Cashews added some crunch while the addition of broccoli and carrots both added color and made me feel less guilty about finishing the whole thing.

My first impression made me want to come back and try even more, but it took several months before I found time to return. This time, I brought along Julie and our little man, Jakob.

A styrofoam container of pineappel fried rice with shrimp and vegetables from Eve's Thai Kitchen.

Like me, Julie couldn’t resist the pineapple fried rice. But instead of chicken, she ordered hers with shrimp. And she enjoyed it just as much as I had. She had enjoyed the addition of the shrimp.

She shared everything with Jakob. While he refused the shrimp, he loved the rice and kept asking for more. He also liked the baby corn, which I hadn’t remembered from my order of the pineapple rice. The baby corn is a favorite of mine as well and was a nice addition.

For my second visit, I decided to try something different. On the specials menu, I saw a basil stir-fry. It included your choice of meat (chicken, for me), green beans, onion, carrots and bell peppers over white rice.

A styrofoam container with a stir-fry, including chicken, carrot, green beans, onion and red and green bell peppers from Eve's Thai Kitchen

It was very good and used fresh basil that gave the deep brown sauce a nice herby flavor. I enjoyed everything about it. I especially liked that it was served over white rice instead of fried. While fried rice is good, I always prefer white rice because it soaks up the flavor of everything around it so well. It makes for a much more complete dish, in my opinion, and in this case it allowed the basil sauce, chicken and vegetables to really shine.

Also, I should mention that Eve’s allows you to choose your level of spice: none, mild, medium, hot or Thai hot. Julie went with “none” while I went with “mild.” I didn’t find mild to be very spicy at all, but that doesn’t mean I’m brave enough to raise my spice level next time.

Our food didn’t take long either. Though it was obviously made fresh, it wasn’t more than 15 minutes before it was ready for us. And the price was right as well. Adding on two bottles of water, it was less than $25 for our meals.

On both of my visits, Eve’s Thai Kitchen really delivered with impressive food done well – and done quickly – at a very reasonable price (as you would expect at a farmers market stand).

And it fits in well at the Shillington Farmers Market, which has become a destination for great food here in Berks.

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

Eve’s Thai Kitchen
10 S. Summit Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

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Lo mein from San's Asian Food

Review: San’s Asian Food

A row of chairs from San's Asian Food

In 2017, I got my first taste of 1 Potato Two and their signature spudwich. It was so unique – and delicious – that I named it one of my five favorite entrees of 2017.

The stand was still brand new at the Boscov’s Fairgrounds Farmers Market when I visited. Now, about two-and-a-half years later, 1 Potato Two is gone.

But the space has already been filled by San’s Asian Food.

San’s opened in August in the already crowded market, taking over the former site of 1 Potato Two at the Mall end of the Market. Unlike their predecessor, San’s has taken full advantage of a less-than-desirable space. A warming table and sushi cooler faces the main aisle. In the space between San’s and the next stand, they have added a pair of two-seat tables to complement the counter seating.

Warming tables filled with Chinese food entrees and sides from San's Asian Food

The new stand has a little bit of everything: a warming table with your standard Chinese food fare and rotating specials, a cooler filled with sushi (for those looking for a sushi review, I’m sorry. I am not a seafood fan so you would not want to hear from me), and a full menu to order from if you don’t mind waiting.

I made two visits to San’s – both for lunch – so I could get a better taste for their food.

Sesame Chicken and rice from San's Asian Food

On my first visit, I wanted to try the classics. Among the limited selections waiting on the warming table were General Tso’s chicken and sesame chicken, two of my favorites. I got the two-entree lunch combo with a side of fried rice.

The General’s chicken was interesting. Usually it’s a sweet and spicy dish, but this had more of a tangy flavor to it. It wasn’t bad – I actually did enjoy it – but it wasn’t what I was anticipating. Unfortunately the sesame chicken was a let down for me. There wasn’t much of a sauce, and what little I had didn’t have a whole lot of flavor. It wasn’t bad tasting, it just didn’t have much of a taste.

Sesame Chicken and rice from San's Asian Food

I did enjoy the rice, which had what seemed to be fresh vegetables in the form of carrots, peas and onions (there was also just a little bit of meat). It wasn’t flashy, but it was a good side.

Both entrees used real white meat chicken, which is something I really appreciated. I’ve cut into too many pieces of General’s chicken only to find a mix of processed white and dark meat. That was not the case at San’s, which set it apart.  

On my second trip, I changed it up and ordered teriyaki chicken and lo-mein.

Teriyaki chicken from San's Asian Food

All around, it was a better meal than my first visit. The chicken had a very good flavor to it – salty and a little sweet as expected from a teriyaki base. The actual meat, though, was the stereotypical “pieces” that you find most often with the dish. It brought it down a little bit for me, but again, the flavor was really strong – probably the best of the three chicken dishes that I tried at San’s.

Lo mein from San's Asian Food

I also enjoyed the lo mein. It was tossed with broccoli, cabbage and other vegetables. The noodles were good and I enjoyed all of the vegetables. It was simple, but good.

In addition to the warming table, San’s does have a full menu so you can order your meal fresh. With limited time on my lunch, I appreciated the ready-made meals. If I had more time – say at dinner – I would love to go back and see how much better the food would be if it was made fresh.

Also, the small prices are a big plus. The two-meat combo is less than $10 (the single is $7).

San’s may not have jumped to the top of my list for Asian food in Berks County, but that’s ok. It has some good offerings at a very good price. It’s also really convenient.

That’s the makings of a farmers market stand built to last.  

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

San’s Asian Food
Boscov’s Fairgrounds Farmers Market
2934 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

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Review: Hawaii Kitchen

First-floor retail space on a townhouse with a sign that reads "Hawaii Kitchen Sushi Burrito & Poke Bowl"

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.

black dry erase menu board for Hawaii Kitchen in front of a stone lined garden

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.

long counter seating area along an unadorned wall

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.

bowl with greens topped with avocado and sesame seeds

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.

bowl with shrimp and fruit toppedw ith avocado and cheese

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.

table with a bottle of snapple Peach tea and a Gold Peak green tea next to a wooden flower box

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.

burrito-sized sushi roll cut in half with black wrap filled with purple rice, lettuce, tofu and avocdo

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

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Chicken and Vegetable Vermicelli Bowl - Lang Restaurant

Review: Lang Restaurant

non-descript corner storefront with the words "Lang Restaurant" in a window

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).

granite looking tabletops with wooden chairs in the dining room of 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.

photos hang in cut out, illuminated spaces on a wall inside Lang Restaurant

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

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plate of sesame chicken with greens a blue flower

Review: Masa Sushi & Hibachi

strip mall storefront with stone facade and a large sign that reads "Masa Hibachi & Sushi"

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).

Large portrait drawing of a figure holding a samurai sword

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.

two bars - one illuminated in red the other in purple - at Masa in Wyomissing

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.

bowl of salad topped with two pieces of shrimp and an orange ginger dressing

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.

blue clay bowl filled with coconut chicken soup from Masa Hibachi in Wyomissing

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.

black bowl with udon noodles and beef from Masa in Wyomssing

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.

takeout container with clear lid showing udon noodles and beef

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.

white round plate with sesame chicken garnished with broccoli, a kale leaf and a purple flower

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

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Pho House – CLOSED

exterior of the pho house in Wyomissing, PA

Editor’s Note: The Pho House is now closed. The restaurant closed in April 2020. No restaurants have taken its place yet.

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).

bean sprouts on a plate

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.

bowl of pho with beef

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.

bowl of pho with beef

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.

two egg rolls with a cup of dipping sauce

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

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plate of chicken in sauce from Zhuang's Garden

Review: Zhuang’s Garden

brick building with the word "Sushi" over the door with a sign out front that reads "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.

mural on the ceiling of Zhuang's Garden painted to look like clouds in a blue sky

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.

wooden bowl with fried noodles and a small white bowl of sauce for dipping

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.

ceramic bowl of egg drop soup from Zhuang's Garden

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.

plate of chicken stir fried with bananas and snap peas

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.”

plate of chicken stir fried with bananas and snap peas

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.

white bowl with lo mein noodles and shrimp

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

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Review: Haiku Hibachi & Sushi

exterior of Haiku HIbachi in Muhlenberg Township

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.

screenshot of an order screen for Haiku HIbachi

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.

screenshot of an ordering screen for Haiku Hibachi

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.

a car waits in the drive-thru line at Haiku HIbachi

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.

black takeout container with chicken, mixed vegetables, carrots and fried 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.

black takeout container with stir fry noodles, steak, mixed vegetables and carrots

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.

plate with a dozen sushi rolls

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

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Mikura was named Best Chinese in Berks.

Review: Mikura Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar

exterior of Mikura in Wyomissing, PA

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.

wooden seats in the dining area of Mikura

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.

two tall glasses with smoothies from Mikura

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.

panang curry with chicken and vegetables from Mikura

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.

bowl of shrimp, mango and vegetables in sauce with a cup of rice from Mikura

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.

plate with four orange slices and two fortune cookies in bags from Mikura

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

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Review: Jumbo China Buffet – RENAMED

lettering above a strip mall restaurant reads "Jumbo China Buffet"

Editor’s Note: Jumbo China Buffet is now Regal 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.

warming tables with noodles and chicken dishes at Jumbo China Buffet

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.

plate with yellow rice, broccoli and chicken from Jumbo China Buffet

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.

plate with general's chicken, sweet and sour chicken, fried plantains and an egg roll from Jumbo China Buffet

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.

cup of chocolate and vanilla soft serve with a banana in strawberry sauce

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.

sugary donut from Jumbo China Buffet

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

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