Correction: This story was updated at 9:27 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 3, 2019, to state the banh mi sandwich is Vietnamese cuisine. A previous version stated it was a Korean dish.
Foodies like to try new things, and they like to think they know where the best things to eat in town can be found. For them, the joy is not just finding a great banh mi, for example, but discovering that it can only be found in an Asian market or that the best fried chicken in town might be sold at a gas station near Warner Park. Get the potato logs there as well.
Part of the joy of finding the hidden food gems is sharing them with others, so we've put together a random, unofficial list of some of the best, and most unusual, food items in town with the idea that 2020 could be the year of food discoveries. Please share your own thoughts on where to try something new.
* Vietnamese: Few things are better than a banh mi sandwich when it is done right, and the Vietnamese sandwiches made by the owner's mother at Asian Food & Gifts of Chattanooga on Hixson Pike are delicious. She also makes some of the best kimchi in town as well.
* Thai: For Thai food, you have to travel to East Ridge, where Thai Esan is located. All of the curry dishes there are good, but the Pad Kee Mao, or drunken noodles, as it also called, is especially good.
It is the perfect blend of spicy and sweet with basil and a sauce made from sweet soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and Thai chilies over noodles. The coconut soup and papaya salad are also amazing and like nothing else you'll eat anywhere.
* Greek: East Ridge is also home to one of the best Greek restaurants in town at the Olive Branch. The other is Opa near Coolidge Park. While both specialize in Greek cuisine, they are about as different as they can be.
Olive Branch changes out its hot items daily, and everything there is good, but the Greek chicken, chicken livers and gyros are especially good. It also features baked items and has a grocery as well.
At Opa, just order the plate and take what owner/chef Michael Borodimos decides to serve you. It can and does change, but it will be some combination of olives, leg of lamb, gyro meat, hummus, tzatziki and spanakopita, and it will be amazing.
* Vegetarian: He also can put together a tasty vegetarian or vegan plate. Speaking of which, the vegan chicken salad wraps at Cashew, just a few doors down on River Street, are pretty terrific as well. A vegetarian dish should be judged on whether it is good and not whether it tastes close to its meat alternative, and that wrap is just plain good.
* Central American: If you've never eaten a pupusa, go to Pupuseria Marelyn on Dodds Avenue. Don't let the razor wire on the fence surrounding the building deter you. The restaurant and staff are open, warm and inviting, and the El Salvadoran cuisine is excellent. Deciding what to order is the tough part because you'll want to get a couple of pupusas, which are thick flatbread discs stuffed with cheese, meat, spinach and/or beans, and they are surprisingly filling.
More and more people seem to be drinking hot tea these days, and it's good to see several restaurants and coffee shops offering at least a couple of choices. Wildflower Tea Shop & Apothecary across from the Choo Choo has a vast selection.
If you've never tasted a really good cup of tea, you should.
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.