Local Food

Published on November 7th, 2019 | by Elizabeth Tettleton

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The Way the Fortune Cookie Crumbles: Asian Cuisine in Oxford, Mississippi

I’ve had hibachi so. many. places. And if you’re anything like me, you’re done watching the “butter fly,” the steaming onions “choochoo,” or the squeeze-bottle boy spraying you in the face. I don’t order hibachi because I want to catch scrambled egg pieces in my mouth like a trained seal. I eat hibachi for the comfort food of Asian cuisine. Sadly, the days of romanticized hibachi a la Benihana are long gone and have been boiled down to stereotypical fodder. Don’t get me wrong. I still love hibachi and teriyaki and Katsu and all the other lovely Japanese steakhouse offerings, but I want something more. Where is the Pho? The Ramen? The Bao? The Peking Duck? I like to hope that if I want these things out of the Oxford Restaurant Scene that there is a larger market also pining away for these options.

Poke Bowl at Hawai’i Poke & Grill. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.

Oxford needs Asian food, whether on the cheap or for top dollar – and cannot seem to get enough. After I got back home from D.C. this weekend I was craving delicious Asian cuisine like I’d had in our nation’s capital. During lunch today I was blown away by the service, reasonable prices, and variety of food offered at Hawaii Poke & Grill and was inspired to gather up a gratitude list of Asian restaurants in Oxford.

Best Taste of Hawaii + Poke

So mayyyybe I gave away the punch line here, but I think you’ve guessed my pick. Be warned: I’ve never had Hawaiian food before my trip to Hawaii Poke & Grill; I’ve never been to Hawaii; I’ve never eaten at Aloha Thai & Hawaiian restaurant. Before my entrée was even ordered, the hospitable staff of Hawaii Poke & Grill greeted us with two rounds of appetizer meats, lightly fried and topped with some amazing “spicy sauce” (and no, they had no idea I was planning to write on the experience). My lunch combo of Big Island Steak and Shrimp was well marinated and smothered with veggies and pineapple, served with a choice of white or fried rice and soup or salad and a lumpia roll, all for $13 with tip.

Crispy Catfish Salad at Rice & Spice

Best Tamarind, Curry + Spices

Everyone argues over which Thai place in town is the best, and I won’t be swayed. My Thai home is Rice & Spice and has been so many years I haven’t kept track. I have had both Zaap Thai Kitchen and Pick Thai, but Oxford has none better than Rice & Spice and their multitude of healthy, classic, delicious, and speedily made entrees. I literally crave Kou Gai Noodle, yellow curry with beef and pork, and the Crispy Catfish Salad.

Habachi at Toyo in Oxford, Mississippi.

Best Live Performance Food

I know I started off bitching about Hibachi sterotypes, but hear me straight. I have eaten Kabuki and Toyo more times than I have phalanges and trust me when I say: I know my yum yum sauce. From the interior, to the wait staff, to the quality and fresh ingredients, Toyo is the best when it comes to Oxford Hibachi and there is none kinder than manager KhengHin Chan.

Best Date Night Spot

Jinsei sushi.

By a landslide Jinsei is the go-to for a fancy feeling date night, a special event, or porch snack and drinking. They also have the most modern and user friendly website of the Asian food lineups in Ox. For overall atmosphere and hospitality, the new Hawaii Poke & Grill works quite well. It may be a little kitschy, but they own it and it feels in place. Toyo and Rice & Spice are comfortable locations with large booths and hospitable and knowledgeable staff.

What sets these guys apart is the kindness and attentive nature of the staff at both Rice & Spice and Hawaii Poke Grill. These guys care and it shows, which goes a long way in my book. Their staff are dedicated to their food, their customers, and most of all, that their customer(s) had an amazing  and unique experience. Don’t forget to tip your service staff well—20% gratuity is not for a “great job,” it is the bare minimum.

Pro Tip: a little birdie told me, if requested, Noodle Bowl will provide you an authentic “Chinese menu.” That’s way more impressive than ordering a fish sandwich off the Sonic Secret Menu. Jus’ sayin’.

Best Way to Tease the Palate

I’m one of those crazy people who can make a meal out of appetizers. I’ll confess that I’ve done it—don’t judge—many times. Some of my local Asian app favorites are as follows:

Rice & Spice: Krab Rangoon, fresh shrimp spring rolls, or a cup of their Tom Kha Coconut Soup.

Maharaja: Garlic naan, onion kulcha, and gobimanchuria

Jinsei: tempura green beans with spicy mayo or steamed buns with kobe flank steak

Hawaii Poke & Grill: lumpia spring rolls and Pu Pu platter (made for two!)

Best Hooch

Cocktails at Jinsei in Oxford, Mississippi.

A frequent winner of the local Iron Bartender competition, it isn’t surprising that Jinsei has remarkable cocktails. Maybe Jinsei feel’s their clientele want craft booze, or maybe it’s just the heat from the mezcal cocktails across the way Ivy McLellan is shaking up in Snackbar. Monday’s are for $5 Mojitos at Jinsei, so don’t forget that deal-i-o. Best Bang for Your Buck can’t be topped by Toyo’s heavy house wine pours and happy hour ($3.50 wine, sake, and cocktails and $1.99 beer Monday–Thursday, 3:30-6:30 pm) and the new Hawaii Poke & Grill’s selection of imported $4 beers and $8 cocktails.

A Final Note

I understand that this article is nearly too large to give a fair scope of “the best Asian restaurants in Oxford, Mississippi.” I also feel our town is misappropriating so many cultures by boiling down their cuisine to the Americanized versions that we have grown accustomed to devouring mindlessly. I want to acknowledge the many Oxonians still creating authentic Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Malaysian, Thai, Korean, Indian, and so many other Asian foods authentically behind closed doors. I am sorry our community has not welcomed an accurate version of your culture to it’s local table. Honestly, if you’re still waiting in the wings wanting to bring authentic food from your country to our Oxonian plates, I beg you to do it.

Julep Steakhouse & Flights: A Conversation with Owner Clint Boutwell

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