Car dealerships and textile shops line both sides of South Tacoma Way, but tucked between you’ll find humble eateries serving Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Salvadoran cuisine. Don’t be fooled by the simple storefronts and casual atmosphere; these restaurants are bursting with sweet, spicy, and umami flavors that diners are devouring.
El Pulgarcito III
8534 South Tacoma Way
With its true Salvadoran menu, you will be delighted with the popular street food pupusas, cornmeal cakes stuffed with cheese, grilled meats, and refried beans. The chicharron (pork) pupusas with cheese and refried black beans are the most-ordered combination. Grilled on each side for a crispy finish and served with spicy hot sauce, these cakes are an absolute treat. Another crowd pleaser — among the tacos, burritos, sopas, and platters — is the bistek encebollado, beef tenderloin marinated in adobo spices and served with piping hot grilled onions and peppers.
Ho Soon Yi Restaurant
8501 South Tacoma Way
Ho Soon Yi serves up Korean-Chinese fusion nearly 13 hours a day, every day. Pulling spices from classic Korean dishes and sauces from traditional Chinese dishes makes this menu a win-win. Most notable is the kalbi beef — smoky short ribs are barbecued to juicy perfection and served alongside tofu, kimchi, and marinated vegetables. For an appetizer, the seafood pancake offers scallions, shrimp, and squid for a savory start to your meal. Classic Korean bibimbap makes the menu, with a fried egg atop sweet and spicy ground beef, bean sprouts, kimchi, carrots, sautéed spinach, and steamed rice.
9312 South Tacoma Way
Pho Hoa serves the full gamut of classic Vietnamese dishes. As one of the few restaurants on South Tacoma Way open until 4 a.m., diners are here at all hours, slurping their favorite pho noodle soup. The talk about town is the summer rolls. Rice wraps stuffed with shrimp, sweet pork, fresh salad, and rice vermicelli are the perfect beginning to your meal. When it comes to pho combinations the options are endless. For beginners to pho noodle soup, options include chicken or steak in steamy broth. For more adventurous diners, there are combinations, of steak, brisket, flank, and even tendon. The fatty cuts give a salty, almost bacon-like taste to each bowl. Another preferred dish is the vermicelli bowl. With choices of grilled chicken, pork, or prawns over rice vermicelli, paired with a fried roll of minced pork and vegetables, is a popular place.
Chung Ki Wa Korean BBQ
8601 South Tacoma Way
Serving fusion Korean barbecue, Chung Ki Wa is a favorite among South Tacoma Way diners. Whether you dine in and eat from the tabletop grill or order take-out, you’ll be pleased with the mouthwatering menu. With hints of brown sugar and garlic, the sweet bulgogi beef will melt in your mouth, and the side dishes won’t disappoint. Fresh kimchi, glass noodles, and spicy cucumbers accompany the generous plating of beef. The real gem of the menu is the dwaejibulgogi, a spicy pork dish. The pork proves to be the most popular dish, and it’s no surprise why. Marinated in hot pepper paste, soy sauce, and sesame oil, the pork soaks up the heat and sweet flavors. It’s finished with fresh green onions and sesame seeds. Lunch specials are stand-outs with Bento boxes offering a choice of pork, chicken, or steak bulgogi and classic sides like gamjajorim, potatoes simmered in sweet and tangy sugar and soy sauce. If you are craving a hearty soup, order the manduguk, a sliced rice cake and dumpling soup.
8765 South Tacoma Way
Yen Ching serves traditional Szechuan cuisine. Highlighting regional Chinese flavors, sweet and spicy dishes feature a liberal use of garlic and chili peppers. The cashew chicken — with crunchy cashews, crispy vegetables, mushrooms, and moist chicken — is a must-try. The wonton soup will satisfy a lighter appetite, with wontons swimming in a bowl of mushrooms, daikon, carrots, and green onions. The dry braised shrimp over rice is the show-stopper of the menu. Spicy braised shrimp, red and green bell peppers, chili peppers, and water chestnuts offer a sweet, tangy, and spicy bite.
8722 South Tacoma Way
A star among local sushi restaurants, Kyoto offers beloved Japanese dishes seven days a week. This gem has something on the menu everyone in the family will enjoy. Appetizers like crispy shrimp and vegetable tempura are fried to golden brown. Bento boxes of chicken or beef teriyaki, sushi, sashimi, and tonkatsu are a feast for the eyes and stomach. The sushi is a step above the rest, with creations like the Moose Roll, stuffed with cooked shrimp, crab, cucumber, avocado, smelt roe, and tempura flakes. Another crowd favorite is the Midnight Sun Roll, stuffed with scallops, mayo, crab, cucumber, avocado, and smelt roe.