Cafe Society

Another week, another obsession

For more photos of Peking Tokyo, see Mark Manger's slideshow.

I love ethnic restaurants that open in the abandoned shells of chain restaurants or, better yet, fast-food restaurants, and I love them even more when they keep the impedimentia and knick-knacks of those former operations and end up serving their bulgogi alongside napkin dispensers still embossed with a big, humped M or their noodles along the rail that once separated a Taco Bell's counter from its dining room... I love menus that come off as accidental, innocent fusions -- the Indian restaurant that serves spaghetti or the pizza joint with samosa appetizers -- and the kitchens that muddle up their techniques, cooking my steak in a wok or my barbecue in a gimmicked convection oven.

I love restaurants that don't bother with signs, or have signs that they don't bother translating into English. I love restaurants called "Korean BBQ" or "Noodles" or "The one with the weird picture of the dancing pork bun." And I love restaurants whose names make no sense at all -- which have, through transfer of ownership or change in neighborhood or a slow, Brownian motion of cooks and managers and special requests and inattention, drifted from the place they once were into something altogether different, organic and strange.

I've got a lot of reasons for liking Peking Tokyo, the restaurant I review this week. One of my biggest reasons is the menu, an absolutely massive menu that spans several discrete culinary traditions, offering a hundred different tastes of some seriously good immigrant Asian food.  It's worth a try for anyone who, like me, is always on the lookout for the next great strip-mall Asian joint.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of strip malls, I've got another new favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican place: El Viva Villa. It opened a while back in the old/new home of Mee Yee Lin on South Havana (the place Mee Yee Lin moved to after abandoning its original digs on Federal) and serves an al pastor burrito that I've been dreaing about ever since having my first about a week ago. Check out this week's Second Helping for all the details.

And then turn to Bite Me, in which I attempt to answer this question: Are chicken wings without chicken any kind of wings at all?