Authentic Asian cuisine on Convoy St surprises

by Kelly Callas

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At first glance, Convoy Street seems entirely forgettable. Located in Kearny Mesa between Aero Drive and Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, the densely populated stretch of this concrete artery appears little more than a common string of strip malls and car dealerships. But take another look.

Posted signs are written in Asian characters with English subtitles. As loyal veteran diners may already know, tucked behind those signs are some of the city’s most authentic Korean, Japanese and Thai restaurants — to name a few. This is not just any other street; Convoy is unexpected, alive and bringing Asian flavor to San Diego.

Convoy Tofu House, located at 4229 Convoy St. in Convoy Center, is no exception to the block’s subtle intrigue. Don’t go in expecting five-star ambience. The menus are plastic and the radio music is crackling with static. The food, however, is just the kind of thing that makes this street memorable.

This restaurant offers distinctive Korean dishes such as bibimbap, a hot bowl of crispy rice, vegetables, meat and egg; bulgogi, marinated meat cooked over an open flame; and a variety of tofu stews at prices ranging from $9 to $17. These costs may be atypical for the general area, but when looking for a taste of Korean cuisine, Convoy Tofu House is food from the Seoul.

Diners looking to spice things up may want to check out Chilies Thai Gourmet. Located in the same parking lot as The Original Pancake House at 3904 Convoy St., this restaurant wins notable reviews as Convoy’s tiny Thai secret. With spice levels ranging from 1 to 10, even seasoned flame swallowers are urged to think twice before ordering high on the scale.

The restaurant’s pink walls and plastic cushions may challenge the “gourmet” concept of its title, but Chilies Thai Gourmet doesn’t fail to serve a foodie’s choice of dishes at a reasonable price. Both lunch and dinner menus offer traditional Pad Thai, pan-fried rice noodles with hot sweet sauce, peanuts and bean sprouts; special vegetarian plates and a variety of Thai curries at prices around $7 for lunch and $10 for dinner.

Looking for a new date night restaurant? Wa Dining Okan can inject spice into any relationship or palate. Located next to Nijiya, a bona fide Asian market, Wa Dining Okan breaks away from the typical American expression of Japanese food as merely sushi or tempura. It serves tapas style platters such as Nagasaki-style braised pork and gobo salad (stacked high with fried gobo root) with prices ranging from $5 to $13 every night. This restaurant is a stylish Japanese eatery without going over the top, and because of its small size and popularity, reservations are recommended.

For those who have not yet journeyed to Kearny Mesa’s little Asia, a culinary adventure awaits. These three restaurants are only a taste of what Convoy Street has to offer, and whatever one’s tastes may be, something new is waiting to be discovered.

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