Lets talk about the delights of stumbling across things where you dont expect them.
• Like Honey Buns, at the Super G international grocery on East Independence Boulevard. Here, youll find eight kinds of savory bao fluffy, soft white dough, with an exterior sheen, fresh from big bamboo steamers and encasing a variety of meat blends and more.
Theyre mostly a festival of pork: Theres the Vietnamese pork bun (pork with egg, sausage and radish), the BBQ pork bun (Hong Kong style, with a burgundy-red sweet-edged sauce bathing the bits of pork in the center), the Korean bun (pork with tofu, cabbage, glass noodle and more), the Chinese pork bun (pork with green onion and cabbage) and the xiao-long pork bun (pork with shrimp, crab and vegetables). But kimchi and teriyaki chicken also find their way into these light, inexpensive tidbits.
And thats just the savory buns. Youll also find shrimp and pork shu-mai (fillings wrapped in sheer wonton skins left open at the top), delicate little shrimp dumplings, and a whole array of sweet things: buns enclosing a stiff, vivid-gold custard or taro root filling or red bean paste, and cakes: rice cake, Malay cupcake and tapioca cake.
Cant decide? Get both sweet and savory, with the glutinous sweet rice wrapped in a lotus leaf with shrimp and mushroom.
Honey Buns, owned by Wen Lee and Chung Huang, takes half of one corner of the grocery, with tables and chairs in front of the counter and several bustling people behind it, folding, filling and steaming. With single buns going for $1 all the way up to $1.65, you can order big white styrofoam boxes full of these tender treats and nibble all day.
704-737-4836; 7323 E. Independence Blvd., Charlotte.
• Or Korean Restaurant, the place serving big plates and bowls from the other half of that corner at Super G. Here, newcomers can peruse photos of many dishes, with name and price (and sometimes offered in two sizes!), from about $6 to $13. Among the most accessible to new folks are bulgogi essentially sweet-tinged, marinated, sliced beef and bibimbap, a colorful, careful arrangement of greens, beef, sprouts, mushrooms, carrots and more around a central portion of rice with an egg cooking atop it all. Dip a fork in and out of everything and youre set. Yes, a bit of kimchi (fermented vegetable) comes on the side, along with a hot sauce that mustnt be missed. (Welcome to gochujang and tell everyone who keeps yipping about sriracha to take a breath and try this deeper, richer chile paste.)
The more adventurous may opt for one of the spicy stews or noodle dishes yook gae jang (with beef) or soon doo boo (with soft tofu) but you can also ask questions if youre simply curious: The folks manning the register on my visit to He Yun Parks place answered easily.
704-536-5848; 7323 E. Independence Blvd.
• Or Minodas, which is actually the Kabuto Japanese steakhouse on Tyvola but with an izakaya menu offered in the dining area that doesnt feature flying knives. (Owner Marvin Minoda has added a sign out front by the surprising water garden that says Minodas, but youll find the place by looking for the better-displayed Kabuto signage.)
Izakaya is sort of the Japanese equivalent of Chinese dim sum or Spanish tapas: small plates meant to be ordered in groups by people who, traditionally, are drinking (tea in the Chinese instance, sherry in the Spaniards). This isnt a lengthy or particularly diverse list, but its more in the $4-$9 range than Ive seen in the last decade or so (remember the short-lived robata bar at the defunct Mai on South Boulevard?). Look here for agedashi eggplant (fried, with dashi sauce and scallions), lemon butter ika (squid), and skewers of tender beef, chicken or shrimp. Seaweed salad is fine, tempura vegetables well-fried and a lineup of soups and noodles are offered, as well as a separate sushi menu.
446 Tyvola Road; 704-529-0659. www.minodas.com.