It is no secret that Taste of Asia in La Verne has delicious, exciting dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, China and even from Laos. Locals and even celebrities such as Larry Thomas (“The Soup Nazi”) and Linda Blair know this and have been here to experience the food for themselves.
But it is a secret exactly why the food is so outstanding. So I set out to do some research on this topic.
Early on a Monday evening, I entered the small, family-run restaurant on Foothill Boulevard. After being immediately welcomed by a server and one of the chefs, I felt at ease amid the upscale modern Asian décor.
Virada Khowong, owner and chef of Taste of Asia, opened the restaurant in June 2008 after years of preparation.
“It’s always been my mom’s dream to have her own restaurant,” Violet Khowong, a waitress at Taste of Asia, said.
Khowong spent many years making her dream a reality. She was raised in Laos, and then completed many culinary programs in Thailand to become a certified chef. Her many diplomas adorn the walls.
Sitting at one of just 10 tables in restaurant, I scanned the menu as a barrage of customers came in, most of them picking up take-out orders.
A huge menu of more than 70 eclectic dishes spanning from traditional Vietnamese hand rolls and curries to Korean B.B.Q. ribs to Thai mussels made it difficult to choose just a few dishes.
The menu has something for every palate, it seems; each dish can be made to any degree of spiciness to suit individual tastes.
The first dish that arrived was quite impressive; the egg flower soup had a rich flavored broth full of tofu, fresh peas, green onion, cabbage and scrambled eggs. This soup is certainly homemade (unlike the pre-prepared egg flower soup you find at many restaurants) and reminded me of the soup my grandmother used to make every Christmas.
Next came the Taste of Asia Platter; a selection of appetizers including spring rolls, crab rangoons, fried wontons, sentosa fried shrimp and chicken sa-tay. The winning appetizer was the fried wontons; they tasted perfectly crisp and airy, not at all like the greasy imposters I had been served at other places.
The drunken fried rice featured lots of Thai spices made with eggs, fresh chili, onions and tender chicken served just spicy enough that it made my nose run and eyes water. The dish was so scrumptious that I kept eating, despite the spice.
With each dish I tasted, it became more and more apparent that the food was prepared fresh to order with high-quality fresh ingredients. I learned from Violet Khowong that shopping for ingredients is done nearly every day and food is prepared daily. This practice makes the flavors pop in each dish; you can really taste the difference.
Next I tasted (from my boyfriend’s dish) a incredible entree from the chef’s recommendations section of the menu: the tropical salmon, a grilled filet of salmon topped with a fresh mango, tomato, onion salsa and served on a bed of fresh spinach. I enjoyed that this dish was not something I expected to find at a Thai restaurant, yet it was executed perfectly.
Another plus about this restaurant is that while all of the prices are so low ($6.95 to $14.95 for main dishes) the portions are huge. So customers undoubtedly leave the restraunt with delicious leftovers.
As I waited for the check, which was extremely inexpensive considering all of the food we had ordered, I reflected upon the food we had eaten in the name of research.
Yes, I now know Taste of Asia’s secret. I understand why each and every dish is so good and I understand why this restaurant has become a staple in the diet of locals and celebrities alike. The combination of fresh, high-quality ingredients, a menu featuring a wide selection of unique dishes from across Asia and the passion of the owner and chef to create a great restaurant is a winning one.
Megan Sebestyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.