By April Dudash
Around these parts, it’s all about burgers and barbecue. But more exotic tastebuds seek out the gates of Fort Bragg, a hotbed of authentic southeast Asian restaurants and markets. Fancy foodies go elsewhere — most of these shops are mom-and-pops.
They are the wives who met their husbands stationed in Korea or decades ago in Vietnam. Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino, Chinese and Japanese, these are the flavors of Fort Bragg. Whether you take it American hot or Thai spicy, this guide gives you everything you need to eat or, better yet, prepare your next Asian meal.
We break it down by Fort Bragg gates, fruits and veggies, rice and noodles, and throw in a few of our favorite snacks. Only have a little to spend? Twenty bucks goes surprisingly far in the Asian market. Wash it all down with a glass of wine, sake or Asian beer. Beer to bubble tea, curries to kimchi, sushi to hibachi, we tell you where to get it or tips on how to make it. If we missed your favorite place, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add it to this online guide.
- 126 N. Main St. 910-960-3209
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Saturday; lunch buffet, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Sgt. Drew Rimbach and Staff Sgt. Gilbert Young sat in one of Geang's yellow booths on a recent lunch break while a waitress cut fresh mushrooms at a nearby table. They ordered Thai tea ($1.75) topped with half-and-half and fat fresh rolls (two for $3.75), soft rice wrappers crammed with shrimp, beef, fresh vegetables and served with a dipping sauce.
"Everything's handmade," Rimbach said between bites. "As small as it is, they take really good care of you."
The Thai restaurant, which has been open three years, offers a lunch buffet for $6.50 that includes pud bi gra prow beef, pud thai, spring rolls and red curry chicken with bamboo.
"How could I ever doubt you?" Young asked his friend. It was Young's first time trying Thai food, and he fell in love with the tea.
" I'm drinking good karma right here. You cannot be upset after drinking this."
Sawaddee Thai Restaurant
- 1006-F N. Bragg Blvd.
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
There may be three Thai restaurants within a quarter-mile of each other in downtown Spring Lake, but Sawaddee gets more than its fair share of regulars. The owner is from Bangkok, and the restaurant has fresh vegetables delivered three times a week. The most popular dishes on the menu, with its Thai and Chinese influences, are the Thai house fried rice ($10.99), which is stir-fried jasmine rice with meat (chicken, pork, beef), broccoli, onions, egg, shrimp and scallions, and General Tso's chicken ($8.99 on the lunch menu).
- 803 N. Main St.
- Hours: Lunch buffet, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday to Friday; dinner, 4:30 to 9 p.m., Monday to Thursday, and 2:30 to 10 p.m., Friday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday.
As soon as some soldiers come home from Afghanistan, they stop by this restaurant on Main Street near Bragg Boulevard. "When they get off the plane, they call," said owner Pennapa Hinnant. "'Don't close yet. You know what I want.'"
Hinnant grew up in the Esan, or northeastern, part of Thailand, and her dishes reflect the flavors she tasted growing up.
"How do you make the drunken noodle?" Hinnant was asked. "With love. I try to keep everything the way at home, the way my mom cooked."
She takes pride in her home garden where she grows her own Kaffir lime tree, eggplants and peppers, all ingredients in her dishes. She also makes her own peanut sauce and sweet chili sauce. There are four meals served at Thai Esan that would always find their way to her family's table in Thailand. She keeps these close to her heart: Goi salad ($10.95), Yang Esan ($12.95), Num Tok ($12.95) and Larb salad ($10.95), which comes with a choice of boiled and chopped chicken, beef or pork, tossed with ground roasted chili peppers, rice, peppermint, onions and lime juice.
" If we have a party, we can't live without that. It's something that brings us luck."
Jin's Asian Market
- 136 N. Main St.
- Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday.
The owner, Sung Shin, is from Busan, South Korea, and his wife makes the jars of cucumber and cabbage kimchi that line the refrigerated section of their store ($17.99 for a large jar). They also offer a selection of kimbap, or Korean-style California sushi rolls, as well as a variety of rice and produce.
Off the All-American Freeway
- 3401-D Raeford Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Friday; noon to 8 p.m., Saturday.
Don't be fooled by the Eggroll Express sign - a Thai family started a Thai and Chinese restaurant where the takeout spot used to be. The Thai basil ($8.99 chicken, pork or beef) is a standout, with stir-fried ground meat mixed with fresh basil and a spicy basil sauce. The Thai curries, either red, green or the panang ($8.99 chicken, pork or beef), are also favorites.
- 2726 Raeford Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday.
Another lunchtime favorite for those who work along Raeford Road. The Happy Family ($13.95) comes with slices of tender beef, pork, chicken breast and scallops, all pan-fried with vegetables. General Tso's chicken is also popular ($11.95).
Chef Hsien Yun Wang is originally from Taipei, Taiwan, but he's called Fayetteville home since 1984.
Miyabi Kyoto Japanese Steak House
- 1990 Skibo Road
- Hours: 4 to 10 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 4:30 to 10 p.m., Friday to Saturday; 4:30 to 9 p.m., Sunday.
An upscale sushi and hibachi restaurant. The bar is known for its selection of Asian beer (Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin Ichiban, Kirin Light), sake (apple, peach and peppermint) and plum wine (Koyuki). The bartender suggests you start with Kirin if you haven't tried Asian brews before.
New China Restaurant
- 2801 Raeford Road
- Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., Monday to Saturday and noon to 2:15 p.m., Sunday; dinner, 5 to 9 p.m., Sunday to Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday.
The brick building may look closed from the outside, but around dinnertime, the strong smell of sweet and sour sauce surrounds the place. You can choose a small or large portion of fried rice, chop suey or chow mein, along with dozens of beef, poultry and seafood dishes.
Sakura Japanese Restaurant
- 5945 Cliffdale Road
- Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday to Friday; dinner, 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., Monday to Thursday and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday; 12 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
" If people really like sushi, it's the best place in town," says manager Julie Gin, who is originally from Bejing. She moved to the United States at 24, first working in a Rocky Mount sewing factory before jumping into the restaurant business.
She constantly moves from table to table in Sakura, asking people if they've tried sushi before and making recommendations.
The spicy crab roll ($7.95) is a favorite and comes with tempura, avocado and heaped with crab meat mixed in a spicy mayo sauce. The pork katsu with vegetables, soup and salad ($10.95) is also a good pick.
Siam Express Thai & Chinese Restaurant
- 6257 Raeford Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
The lunch specials from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. ($6.29) range from Pud Thai to Moo Goo Gai Pan. You decide how spicy, mild to extra Thai hot. The Pud Thai comes with a lot of shrimp and has a kick to it. Polish off your meal with a sweet Thai iced tea.
- 251 Westwood Shopping Center
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m., Friday; noon to 10 p.m., Saturday.
It's hard to go wrong with a dish called the Happy Roll - tempura shrimp, cream cheese, crab stick and avocado sushi rolls, all topped with shrimp, avocado and spicy mayo and eel sauce ($13). Adventurous eaters should try an array of sashimi, little bricks of rice topped with thin slices of raw fish. If you want to forgo the raw fish, yummy hibachi lunch specials range from $9 for vegetables and $23 for filet mignon and lobster. To finish, the red bean ice cream ($4) is smooth and filling.
Head chef Andy Lee, who's originally from Seoul, said the secret is in the rice. "Some restaurants make the rice not the right way. It's too plain, not enough vinegar. I love our vinegar."
Pan Thai & Asian Market
- 805 Hope Mills Road
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday.
If you're new to Asian cuisine, find manager Vatsady Champasakwong behind the counter in her pink and white slippers. She will help you find the items on your grocery list.
" I have customers just like family," she said. "That's why I stay for 16 years."
Champasakwong is originally from Laos, and her husband's from Thailand. The Army brought their family here, after her sister married into the military.
The Vietnamese coffee sells fast here, she says. The store also has an entire row devoted to noodles as well as exotic produce pickings such as the banana blossom and chive flower. During our pit stop, she recommended we try the coconut juice, saying it would do wonders for our kidneys.
" It's good for your body," she said.
Youn Oriental Food Store
- 205 Hope Mills Road
- Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
The tiny white and blue cinderblock building offers an assortment of items, from Pocky to roasted seaweed to Udon noodles.
Yadkin Road gate
Aunt's Oriental Grocery
- 5352 Yadkin Road
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Sunday.
One of the most authentic Korean groceries in town. All signs are in Korean, and the employees mostly speak the same. They have a good assortment of snacks plus kimbap, or Korean-style sushi, near the register.
- 5048 Yadkin Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday; noon to 8 p.m., Sunday.
Where owner Nang Attaway grew up in the Udon Thani province of Thailand, she was surrounded by fields of coconut, papaya, mango and banana. There was no electricity, and the land was tilled by water buffalo.
"When you go out of the house, everything's green, surrounded by rice."
The beautiful orchid gardens that bloomed in her hometown inspired the restaurant's name.
Her father made amazing Gai salad, she said, which she now makes at the restaurant ($12.95). The papaya salad, or Som Tum ($10.95), is also popular in northeast Thailand.
" If you go into a Thai household, it's going to be somewhere," she said.
Her family arrived in Fayetteville in 1979. Her husband was in special operations, and now her daughters' husbands are both stationed at Fort Bragg.
Family members grow their own vegetables and herbs, and in the winter, they keep a greenhouse. Their yard is full of lemongrass, yardlong green beans, lemon leaf and basil.
"When they order chicken basil, and I put a lot of basil in it, they love it," Attaway said.
Try the Tod Mun Gai ($7.95) if you're looking for a mixture of sweet and spicy. Attaway puts chopped lemon leaf and curry powder in the breading that covers the juicy, deep-fried chicken served with a deliciously sweet sauce full of finely chopped vegetables.
- 5048 Yadkin Road (behind Orchid Garden)
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Sunday, except days when the staff restocks the kitchen.
David Chung's parents own the restaurant, and he regularly visits from Raleigh to help out. The Korean family is feeding customers seven days a week, whether they're military or those looking for a bite to eat after church.
"A customer said it's like home cooking to them. They feel more comfortable here, more relaxed," Chung said. " It's hard to spot us, but it's amazing how many customers stop by."
The Galbi short ribs ($8.99), Jja Jang Myun wheat noodles topped with a soybean paste sauce ($9.95) and Kan Poong Ki chicken mixed with a spicy sauce ($16.95) are good bets.
Philippines Sari-Sari Store
- 4902-100 Yadkin Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
It's the only Filipino store around, and owner Rose Bartley sees that as an opportunity to expand her offerings - she's opening a Filipino restaurant in July called the Turo-Turo Joint. Translated, it's the Point-Point Joint, meaning diners can point to the dish they want.
When she first opened the store three years ago, she had a lot of people stop in wondering what exactly "sari-sari" meant.
"They thought it was an Indian skirt," Bartley said. "Sari-sari means variety."
She grew up in a family of nine in Cebu where she learned how to cook from her grandmother. The military brought her to Fayetteville. She frequently shares aspects of Filipino culture with different units on Fort Bragg, and language classes on post often make field trips to her store to learn more about the products.
The Chicken Siopao ($8.99), or steamed chicken buns, go fast as do the Lucky Me! Pancit Canton Chow Mein, ramen-like packets (59 cents).
The restaurant will offer dishes like adobo, which is meat or seafood marinated in a vinegar and garlic sauce with vegetables, and lumpiang, the Filipino spring rolls.
Ponderosa Oriental Grocery
- 803 Bonanza Drive
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 12 to 6 p.m., Sunday. Closed second and fourth Sundays.
Good selection with fish and tobacco markets in the same shopping center. Large selection of Korean products with some Japanese offerings. A lot of customers who stop by look for the dumplings, which are called mandu.
Shila Korean Restaurant
- 404 Santa Fe Drive
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Sunday. Closed first and third Sundays.
The lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. is one of the largest we've seen. When we stopped by, there were two types of soup (alabone porridge and your typical miso), a delicious sushi spread of raw fish and California rolls, and sticky/fried rice, spicy potatoes, cabbage and radish kimchi, beef bulgogi, cellophane noodles and too many other dishes to name. It's no surprise that the restaurant uses 30 pounds of beef and 20 pounds of pork every day.
"Our restaurant tries to prepare traditional Korean food," said chef Ted Park, who grew up in Seoul. "Some other restaurants are mixing it."
He works with his wife and his mother-in-law, who owns the restaurant.
- 404 Santa Fe Drive
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday.
The biggest Asian market in Fayetteville, complete with a fish market, produce section, huge freezer selection and products for several cultures, including Jamaican and African cuisine. They also sell sushi and Korean music, which are both becoming more popular, said owner Mi Rojas, who is originally from Busan, South Korea. Her husband is retired from the Army and served in a Fort Bragg signal battalion.
- 5352 Yadkin Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday.
With the name, what you see is what you get - plus a few surprises. There are Thai influences as well as a huge Chinese section to the menu.
At lunchtime, the restaurant is a sea of uniforms.
"When they walk in, we don't even have to hand them the menu," said manager Ok Kim.
She is originally from Seoul, and her husband was stationed at Fort Bragg. Fayetteville has been her home for 30 years.
Lemongrass is her favorite seasoning, and a good noodle salad is her favorite dish.
The Vietnamese pho noodle soup ($6.50 to $8.95) and the Chinese lunchtime combos that come with steamed rice or fried rice and an eggroll ($5.25 to $6.25) are always top picks, Kim says.
Ah-Roy Thai Cuisine
- 8175 Cliffdale Road (Montebello Shopping Center)
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
Start your meal with some cheese wontons or chicken spring rolls. Authentic Thai dishes include Yum Nuer (steak salad) for $8.99, the Gaeng Daeng (red curry) for $8.49 to $12.99 and the Pad Woon Sen stir-fried glass noodles for $8.49 to $12.99.
Reilly Road gate
- 528 S. Reilly Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Friday; 1 to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.
They've been serving Thai and Chinese meals for more than 15 years. The cooks are from Thailand and the owners are Chinese. The Thai House Fried Rice ($9.99) is a favorite, with chicken, shrimp, beef, pork, fried rice, sauteed with eggs, onions, broccoli, tomatoes and cucumbers.
E Tae Won Korean Restaurant
- 594 S. Reilly Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
They lay out an all-you-can-eat buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, for $8.75. Some of the dishes: spicy wings, beef bulgogi and soybean soup.
Kim Chi Chib Asian Market
- 194 Starpoint Drive
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday.
One of the biggest Asian markets, Kim Chi Chib is like a mini Costco for all things Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Chinese, Thai and Korean.
" It's a lot of work," owner Jeff Wang said about catering to six different cultures.
The produce section is diverse with Thai basil, Korean watercress, Thai peppers and Thai eggplants, to name a few ingredients lining the shelves. The freezer section of fish and frozen Asian dinner items is expansive, and there is an assortment of lunch-size containers of kimchi, as well as potato starch noodles, seasoned roe squid, seasoned fish cake, anchovies and seaweed.
" I've got the biggest selection of rice in town," he said, including 20 different types of jasmine rice.
The aloe drinks ($2.09) tend to fly off the shelves, and they help calm a "bitter stomach," Wang said.
The Shin Bowl Noodle Soup packages ($12.49) are regularly shipped by military spouses to their husbands overseas in Afghanistan, as are the fresh steamed rice packs ($1.59).
Myong's Grill & Buffet
- 524 S. Reilly Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday and Saturday.
The Korean lunch buffet offers kalbi, or Korean barbecue short ribs, and chapchae noodles, a popular Korean stir-fried noodle dish.
Sapporo Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar
- 649 N. Reilly Road, Suite 103
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 12:30 to 8:30 p.m., Sunday.
- Second location: 6228 Yadkin Road; 910-339-7701
When Sapporo opened in 2005, there were few Asian restaurants along Reilly Road. But now, when the soldiers filter out of the gate for lunch, they have a host of choices, and Sapporo gets a bite of that business.
About 80 percent of its clientele is military, said 28-year-old head chef Shawn Smith, formerly from South Korea. His father is retired from the military, and his mother originally opened the restaurant.
" If the gate wasn't there, we definitely wouldn't be as busy as we are now," Smith said. "We kind of follow codes for the military. They have a four-day weekend, we'll close the buffet."
The beef bulgogi ($14.95) and hibachi dinners ($9.95 for vegetables to $14.95 for filet mignon) are popular. Smith said the restaurant has been successful at mixing two cultures.
"Most of us are Korean. It's just Japanese is a very popular cuisine. We decided to combine them."
If sushi is more your style, try the Caterpillar Roll ($9.95), which is stuffed with cucumber, crab, eel and avocado, or the Rainbow Roll ($9.95), which is made with an assortment of fish, avocado, cucumber and crab.
Seoul Oriental Food Store
- 710 N. Reilly Road
- Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 1 to 7 p.m., Sunday.
Owner Myong White once worked in the 82nd Airborne Division mess hall, and her years of food experience led her to the grocery business near the Reilly Road checkpoint. She makes and sells her own napa cabbage, lettuce and cucumber kimchi recipes here ($10.99 to $18.99). Energy drinks are especially popular with soldiers, she says, such as the pack of Korean Ginseng specialty drinks ($14.99) and the Bacchus-X energy drink with ginseng ($6.99).
"They have a lot of PT, lot of working out, so they take this," White said.
- 1342 Bragg Blvd.
- Hours: Lunch buffet, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday; dinner buffet, 5 to 8:30 p.m., Friday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday.
- Second location: 195 Starpoint Drive / 910-864-2014
If it's one thing here that turns heads, it's the buffet. It's a gargantuan offering of Thai curries, fried rice, spring rolls, stir-fried vegetables, pud Thai and fresh fruit. And normally, you'll find owner Nuan Yai James darting around in her green apron, tidying up, working the cash register and waiting on tables.
"Hello, you late!" she called to a couple of lunch regulars as they came through the door. Her husband is retired from the Air Force, and her sister runs Thai Pepper II off Reilly Road.
Thai House Express
- 316 N. Eastern Blvd.
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Friday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday.
Some of the best pud Thai ($8.95) in all of Fayetteville. The manager, Kay Cha, is an 82nd Airborne Division spouse whose family is originally from Thailand. They don't see a lot of military customers along Eastern Boulevard, but they do get a bunch of cops and lawyers who work downtown.
Cha's sister owns the place, and her brother-in-law cooks. The family was gathered around the table one afternoon, enjoying a late lunch together when business was slow. They were dining on deep-fried fish wrapped in lettuce with a side of noodles.
The Pad Prig Chicken with hot pepper, garlic and onions ($9.25) is also a must, as are the curry dishes. They're enough to make you cry - in a good way.
Here are some takeout spots around town. Several of them offer eat-in seating as well.
Asian Dragon Chinese Restaurant
- 5957 Yadkin Road 910-823-4889
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Bento Box & Sushi
- 2651 Raeford Road
- Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday to Sunday.
China Garden Chinese Restaurant
- 6477-A Yadkin Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday.
- 6900 Cliffdale Plaza
- Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday.
Dragon House Chinese Restaurant
- 938 Brighton Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday.
Mikoto Express Restaurant
- 1400 Walter Reed Road, Suite 260; 910-829-9533
- 7980 Raeford Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
New China King Chinese Restaurant
- 1400 Walter Reed Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday.
- 585 Cross Creek Mall
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday.
- 8175 Cliffdale Road
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday.