Indo owners Buoy Ngov, left, and Vathunyu Nanakornphanom show off their fried tilapia with tamarind chili sauce Nov. 19 at Indo Asian Street Eatery in Tacoma. Lui Kit Wong lwong@thenewstribune.com
Indo owners Buoy Ngov, left, and Vathunyu Nanakornphanom show off their fried tilapia with tamarind chili sauce Nov. 19 at Indo Asian Street Eatery in Tacoma. Lui Kit Wong lwong@thenewstribune.com

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Indo Asian Street Eatery offers portable food with Southeast Asian flair

November 26, 2015 09:00 PM

UPDATED December 03, 2015 10:45 AM

Owners Vathunyu “Yu” Nanakornphanom and Buoy Ngov call their style of cooking “Asian comfort food.”

Find noodle soups tinged with curry, herb-laden salads and quick-grilled meats carrying deeply sweet-salty marinades at Indo Asian Street Eatery, the Tacoma restaurant they opened in July.

My favorite part of the menu is the collection of street foods covering a broad swath of Southeast Asia. The menu of the Stadium neighborhood restaurant meanders from fancy food-on-a-stick, flavor-drenched meats tucked into buns and nibbles meant to be plucked with fingers.

Checking in on Indo four times since its opening, I found a restaurant performing on par with the city’s finest. I recommend this restaurant with no hesitation.

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It was rare to find any flavor element out of harmony with the Southeast Asian symphony of sweet-sour-salty-spicy.

Service was always helpful, friendly and knowledgeable.

And the dining room? Gorgeous.

Stretching deep into a long, narrow space, find layers of brick and blocky wood climbing tall walls to vintage wood beams. A bit of flash beckons near the entrance, with oversized, back-lit letters spelling out “Indo.”

Most every table is intended to give a showy view of the exhibition kitchen. Bar seating also gives an up-close view of the cooking. A fire table ringed with benches provides seating for large groups. An eating bar with a street perch gives solo diners a quick seat for lunch.

The dining room was the project of Seattle design firm Catch Design Studio and Lakewood architect Dan Kinkella.

The menu is broken into one page of street snacks and sandwiches. Another is a collection of noodle and rice dishes and a short list of larger entrees. Diners will appreciate a modestly priced menu with few items above $17.

Because the menu is small, Nanakornphanom and Ngov said they tweak the menu almost monthly so “there’s always something new.”

That’s also why some items described here have changed.

Pork belly yakitori ($8) were six slippery squares of slow-cooked pork belly skewered on long picks, the salty marinade punctuating the richness of the meat. A housemade kimchi, heavy on spice, buffered the richness some with its pungent tang.

Dumplings ($8) held pockets of vivid green creamy edamame and kale. Fresh spring rolls ($8) favored fresh herbs tucked deeply into the rice paper rolls filled with cool noodles and fried tofu.

A duo of pork belly sliders on soft buns ($8) held the same slippery meat as the yakitori skewers, but were dressed with fried onions, sugared peanuts and a spicy chili hoisin.

A chicken banh mi ($9) trailed bread shards down my shirt — a crunchy baguette is a telltale sign of a great Vietnamese sandwich. Chicken marinated in peanut sauce came grilled and sliced, with the usual banh mi accompaniments of cucumber, carrots, jalapeno and cilantro.

Grilled short rib sliders ($9) on cottony rolls kicked up the heat considerably with a creamy, chile-spiked dressing. A tangle of sauteed peppers added crunch to the tall pile of beef flavored similarly to Korean bulgogi.

While bold flavors and spicy heat peppered the snacks side of the menu, a few main dishes were quieter on the heat.

Thai basil fried rice ($12.95) held snappy, sweet prawns, threaded with fried basil and a salty notch of soy sauce. Lap cheong fried rice ($11.95) was terrifically seasoned, laden with chopped scallions and intensely flavored but not spicy Chinese sausage.

Grilled salmon teriyaki ($16.95) was light on flavor and the salmon slightly overcooked — an isolated kitchen flub.

Poached chicken over ginger rice ($13.95) was so quiet, it practically whispered. The timid flavor slipped away, though, after a dousing with side-by-side bowls of miso chili and a ginger sauce.

A Cantonese pork chop ($16.95) pushed the entree side of the menu back into spicy territory, the sticky spicy-sweet sauce clung to battered and fried pork chops that slipped easily from the bone.

Khao soi chicken noodles ($13.95) was a soup spiked with curry heat, pickled mustard greens, ginger and lime, filled with sliced dark chicken, a tangle of greens and slippery rice noodles. A crying tiger salad was the kind carnivores can get behind. It was mostly thick strips of well-grilled ribeye ($18.95), with a modestly spiced vinaigrette heavy on lime.

Like the attractive dining room, careful attention was paid to plating here, with small nibbles showing up on wooden boards strewn with fresh herbs and tangles of vivid sauteed vegetables. Even more attention was given by servers, who tended water glasses, fetched extra plates and always seemed to be within earshot when needed.

Although this is Nanakornphanom’s and Ngov’s first restaurant, they’re seasoned veterans.

Ngov is the youngest daughter of the family that founded the chain of Indochine restaurants. Her parents, Kim Taing and Chhung Ngov, founded Indochine in Federal Way in 1995, selling their restaurants in 2011. Despite “retiring,” the parents are still fixtures at restaurants owned by their children, including Indochine Asian Dining Lounge, Indochine on Pearl and Fuzion Cafe.

Nanakornphanom was a chef at downtown Tacoma’s Indochine for a decade. He’s a self-taught cook whose current menu reflects the food he grew up eating at home and at his parent’s street food stall in Thailand.

Coming next to the menu will be Thai rotisserie chicken, shrimp and chive dumplings, and “I am considering lamb stew, something more warming for the winter,” he said.

Indo Asian Street Eatery

Contact: 110 N. Tacoma Ave., Tacoma.

Information: 253-503-3527; indostreeteatery.com.

Hours: Lunch served 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and noon-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Dinner served 4:30-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.

Rating: Highly recommended.

Beverage list: Sake, shochu, beer, cocktails.

Reservations: For groups of six or more only.

Atmosphere: Dark wood climbs the walls, tables are well-spaced and comfortable, display kitchen commands attention. Sound level noisy, but manageable.

Access: No barriers noted.

In the kitchen: Chef-owner Vathunyu “Yu” Nanakornphanom.