By Sarah Nguyen
In West Mesa, the Asian District, a 2-mile stretch of over 70 Asian-themed and Asian American-owned businesses, proudly stands.
Having the highest number of Asian businesses in one cluster in the state, the district allows Arizonans to have a taste of Asia without leaving the Valley. The centerpiece is Mekong Plaza, where visitors can witness the best of Asia.
Down the street is the Korean restaurant Hodori, a mainstay in Mesa for 18 years. The short rib barbecue and kimchi chigae, a kimchi and pork stew, are favorites of regulars. Owner Sean Kim is meticulous about the freshness of his ingredients.
“Side dishes change daily,” Kim says. “It depends on what is fresh in the markets.”
As a perk, all side dishes are free as long as the customer orders rice and an entrée.
For those who are new to Korean food, Kim recommends any of the barbecue menu items, like bulgogi, a ribeye beef barbecue.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at AZ International Marketplace’s Miss Dessert, which blends Chinese, Vietnamese and Malaysian influences to create a taste completely of its own.
Owner Harry Yu, who opened his first Miss Dessert in 2013 in Houston, offers treats and drinks that serve as a reprieve from the unrelenting Arizona heat.
“If you want something refreshing to drink, I would recommend the Mega fruit tea or Peach Smash with crystal boba,” says Yu, who will soon open a Gilbert location.
Complement the choice of drink with decadent desserts like durian pancakes, a fluffy dish infused with a tropical Asian fruit.
Due to the pandemic, Miss Dessert only offers delivery and to-go options for customers.
Have a taste of Hue, a region in Vietnam known for its distinctive dishes, at Mekong Plaza’s Hue Gourmet.
“Our most-popular menu items include No. 202 and No. 301,” owner Dung Van says.
Banh canh cua is No. 202. It’s a soup with hand-cut noodles, crab meat and shrimp. No. 301 is cha gio—four crispy shrimp eggrolls.
For those who are new to the cuisine of Vietnam, Van recommends No. 303, banh xeo, a Vietnamese pancake served with shrimp topping, vegetables and dipping sauce.
While dining in is still possible, tables and seating have been spaced due to the pandemic for social distancing.
A relatively new addition to the Asian District and Mekong Plaza is Happy Bao’s, which opened in March 2019 and specializes in the Chinese bao.
“For those who have never tried bao, I would best describe it as a hand-wrapped bun,” owner Matthew Ma says.
According to Ma, the most popular menu item is xiao long bao, a dish of eight pork and scallion dumplings served in chicken broth.
The restaurant reopened in August and allows customers to dine in.
Vicente Reid, the chief executive officer of the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce, played a large role in the development of the district.
“It’s a way for us as a community to gather in one area of the city to be proud of and really help promote,” Reid says. “It’s a true microcosm of what it is to be Asian Pacific American.”
The Asian District
Hodori, 1116 S. Dobson Road, Mesa, 480.668.7979, hodoriaz.com.
Miss Dessert, 1832 W. Broadway Road, Mesa, 480.912.3585, missdessertus.com.
Hue Gourmet, 66 S. Dobson Road, Suite 126, Mesa, 480.251.7429, huegourmetmesa.com.
Happy Bao’s, 66 S. Dobson Road, Suite 112, Mesa, 480.912.1207, happybaosmesa.com.