Saturday, July 28, 2007


Today, a few friends and I took a trip to Summerville to try out a little Japanese restaurant called Little Tokyo. It's a long drive from Charleston for a lunch break, but it had been passionately recommended by another friend, and we were all pretty curious.

The restaurant, which is attached to an Exxon station a few miles from downtown S'ville, is a clean, simple place with maybe six tables. It's owned by a Japanese woman, who welcomed us as we walked in, and her Honduran husband, who was hard at work artfully preparing food in the open kitchen. With the exception of a TV tuned in to Fox News, the atmosphere couldn't have been more friendly.

The menu is full of some very inviting traditional Japanese dishes (as well as a few apologetic American options like buffalo wings and steak with mashed potatoes), which made choosing difficult. I decided on the grilled yellowtail neck with ponzu sauce and a small plate of tempura squid to share with the table. All of our entrées included a small bowl of a mild and distinctly delicious soup of fish broth and a few noodles. I didn't see it listed on the menu, but it would certainly be worth ordering a larger serving on its own if possible.

The yellowtail neck was beautifully served with minced daikon - which the owner suggested adding to the sweet dipping sauce - as well as rice, slaw, broccoli salad and a slice of fresh melon. And it was delicious, as was just about everything we ordered, which included gyoza steamed dumplings, curried potato croquettes, and vegetable tempura, but I think the agreed favorite at the table was the yakisoba noodles, stir-fried with shrimp and vegetables in a sweet, rich sauce.

The couple that owns Little Tokyo moved to the area from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and opened the restaurant eleven months ago. New Orleans is also home to two of the guys a was there with - one of them a Katrina evacuee himself - which they shared as we were settling up. It's amazing to consider the ramifications that storm has had throughout our whole country - an awful lot of suffering, but also the opportunity for a group of people to share such a nice experience, in such an unlikely place, two years later.

We thanked our new acquaintances for the delicious meal and spent most of the forty-minute car ride back to Charleston talking about what we'd like to try the next time we have a good excuse to be in Summerville.

~Thanks are due to Molly Hayes for the fine photographs~

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


A few months ago, my friend Jonathan, after listening to me tell another story about the great meal I had enjoyed at one of my favorite taco trucks that afternoon, suggested that I start a lunch blog. I don't know that I had ever read a blog at that point - I somehow doubt that he had, either - but I got the idea. Now at last I've gotten around to it..

This week I ate at one of my favorite spots in the area, the El Jaliciense taco truck at Rosebank Farms on Johns Island. Besides serving the best quezadillas around, El Jaliciense also offers a beautiful atmosphere for enjoying their delightful Mexican cuisine. The truck is parked between a covered farmer's market and the adjacent crops, which lie just before the entrance to Kiawah and Seabrook Islands*. It's operated out of a restaurant on Ashley Phosphate Road up in North Charleston called El Apache.

I arrived a little after noon, and there were about ten customers - more than usual - ordering or already waiting for their food. I got in line and ordered my usual there, two quezadillas de pastor, and grabbed a bottle of Jarritos out of the cooler. The single shaded picnic table was occupied by a few guys from a concrete crew, so I sat on a bench and watched the chickens chase one another around the yard while I waited for my number to be called.

The tortillas and the meat at El Jaliciense are very good, but what sets their quezadillas apart is the addition of fresh greens, tomato, onion, and pickled jalapeño to the usual meat and cheese. I don't know whether it's the style of their cooks or it's simply how quezadillas are traditionally prepared in Jalisco. Whatever the case, the combination of the warm sweet pork and cheese with the crunch of the fresh vegetables makes for an beautifully balanced meal.

When I stopped to pay before leaving, I asked the woman taking orders if she spoke English. I wanted to ask whether they were ever parked there on Saturdays (a question too complicated for my nascent Spanish). For some reason I though she did, but she shook her head and referred me to the man preparing the food behind her. Disappointingly, the answer was no. I thanked them again for the delicious food and headed back to work.

*The establishment of these two gated developments in the 1970s paved the way for the continuing exploitation of what had been a rich and peaceful agricultural sea island community whose livelihood was symbiotic with that of nearby Charleston. The land where the truck parks is owned and worked by a middle aged white farmer whose ancestor is the namesake of the old drawbridge at the other end of the island. He's a kind and quiet man, but more than a little defiant in the face of the development. And though I know he enjoys El Jaliciense's tortas de asada, I've always suspected that he also gets at least some spiteful satisfaction out of helping to provide this fair and friendly place to eat for the hard working immigrant crews who labor inside the gates, where the taco trucks aren't allowed to go.