K-Bop

K-pop has become a global phenomenon so ubiquitous that it needs little explanation. A country that years ago had relatively little cultural impact beyond its borders now produces some of the world’s top-selling popular music with extravagant videos and concert tours that reach an international audience. With that kind of influence, it’s easy to understand why plays on words involving the letter “K” as a prefix have become a shorthand for all aspects of Korean influence, including food. K-Bop, a Tempe restaurant, takes that approach to popularizing Korean cuisine.

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Maisen Katsu

Whether it’s German schnitzel, Mexican milanesa, or Italian parmigiana, many of the world’s culinary traditions incorporate a dish made of thinly cut meat that is breaded and then fried to yield a contrast between a crunchy crust on the outside and tender meat on the inside. Japan is no different with its katsu, usually made with panko bread crumbs encasing a flat piece of pork or chicken. In the food court at H Mart in the Mesa Asian District, Maisen Katsu celebrates katsu by serving hearty platters of crisp, breaded meat, as well as appetizers, sides, and noodles.

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Snowtime

In the summer of 2002, H Mart, the Korean-American grocery chain, finally arrived in Mesa’s Asian District after years of speculation and delay. Like most H Mart locations, the Mesa store features a food court full of Korean food, offering everything from kimchi fried rice to tofu soups. With six stalls devoted to savory entrees, the limited room remaining is allocated to desserts. One option is a bakery, and the other is a locally based shop devoted to frozen treats. Snowtime, named for its signature shaved ice dish, offers snow and more to follow a meal.

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The Stone Korean Tofu House

The stereotype of Korean food in America often involves BBQ, the concept of unlimited quantities of beef cooked at a tabletop grill. It’s a tradition that maps easily to our big appetites for red meat, but it’s far from the totality of Korean cuisine. Korea’s food traditions involve soybeans as much as they do animal protein, and in the Mesa Asian District, the Stone Korean Tofu House devotes itself specifically to a tradition of tofu, not so much as a meat substitute, but instead as an ingredient to be used side-by-side with meats and seafood in complex dishes.

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Paradise Hawaiian BBQ

Every March, the Arizona Aloha Festival at Tempe Beach Park celebrates the little-known fact that the Phoenix Metropolitan Area is home to one of the largest populations of Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders on the United States mainland. Amid the dance performances, exhibitor booths, and outrigger canoes, there are dozens of food vendors selling plate lunches, the popular and hearty meals of Hawaii. All the plate lunch purveyors at the festival are worth trying, but one of the longest lines always belongs to the booth operated by Paradise Hawaiian BBQ. Continue reading “Paradise Hawaiian BBQ”

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