August 13 2012 – Robert Fiumara
Culinary treasures are not always out in the open; sometimes they are hidden away in the most unlikely places. The experience of discovering a hidden culinary gem is exciting for any foodie and can create a feeling of pride and joy. You won’t find one of these undiscovered culinary powerhouses directly on a busy street or getting four star reviews in your local newspaper. The true hidden treasures are the ones that are easy to miss when you’re walking by them because they’re buried in a strip mall (yes a strip mall) between a manicure salon and a 99 cent store.
These places are often unassuming and don’t readily give the impression of the amazing cuisine inside their walls. There will not be any flashy signs or clever names. There will be no maitre de waiting at the door to seat you. The tables will most likely be tightly fit together and either bare or covered with a plastic coated table top. The décor may leave something to be desired. They may forgo the idea of a cohesive décor all together or they might try to overdo it. For example, a Chinese restaurant may look more like a quick order fast food place that happens to have some tables or it may look like they actually double as a store that sells lucky cat statues.
Their staff may not be dressed in the latest culinary fashion, but the true gems will always be clean and neat. The staff will be friendly and ready to serve and the food… oh the food will always be delicious. I have come across a number of these beauties while traveling over the years and they all seem to have one thing in common: They are far from the beaten path. It takes some searching or just some luck to find them, but once you do it’s hard to keep the secret to yourself for long.
Finding these gems is also a lesson in not taking appearances at their face value. Just because their chefs and sous chefs don’t wear starched and pressed culinary uniforms or their wait staff doesn’t keep to a culinary uniform of black pants and button down shirts, doesn’t mean that they do not take pride in their cuisine. In fact, many of them will stand by their cuisine with the ferocity of a mother tiger.
So if you find yourself walking through a strip mall and you wonder what a Vietnamese restaurant is doing tucked in between a dry cleaner and a Payless Shoe Store… stop in and give them a shot. You might have just discovered your own culinary treasure.
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