Neighborhood Eats

The last time I was at Bellevue’s Lake Hills Village shopping center, I was filling a giant bowl with mushrooms, cabbage, Chinese sausage and noodles at YGF MalaTang, handing it to the cashier to be weighed and cooked for my very own custom hot pot bowl.

Walking to my car after lunch, I passed Young Cafe, a Taiwanese spot filled with diners huddled over plates loaded with fried pork cutlets, dumplings and bowls of steaming congee. I knew I had to come back.

Last week I was finally able to go for lunch. While there was a brisk to-go business, my friend and I were the only people in the dining room, which felt weird — especially once lunch was delivered.

We ordered the popcorn chicken ($9.99), pork and shrimp wontons in chili oil ($11.99), the crispy pork chop with rice ($15.99), a beef rice roll ($8.99), Taiwanese sausages ($10.99) and the steamed pork and shrimp dumplings ($12.99). It was a feast.

The only miss was the crispy pork chop. On the surface, it looked a lot like the popcorn chicken — a crunchy, pebbly coating of breading — but while the chicken was juicy, sweet and salty, the pork was dry, the fried coating almost like stale crackers. The pork was narrowly saved by the soy-marinated egg and pile of pickled greens served alongside the chop. The rest of the lunch feast was full of total hits.

The Taiwanese sausages — grilled and served on skewers — were snappy and lightly sweet, the meat a coarser ground. The wrappers on the pork and shrimp wontons were paper-thin, slippery with a chili oil, the heat enhanced by the heap of shredded ginger and sliced scallions that topped the dumplings. The shrimp inside still had that wonderful bite — same with the shrimp and pork dumplings. The rice rolls were silky and delicate, the steamed beef inside juicy and tender. The rolls sat in a puddle of dark, salty, gingery soy sauce.

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We ate and ate and ate, alternating bites of dumplings with sweet milk tea while wondering how we were the only people in the dining room when the food was this good.

It was too much to finish in one sitting — but those little popcorn chicken nuggets were just as good the next day, sliced and thrown on top of a salad I made for lunch. Even with the amount of food we ordered, we missed so much on Young Cafe’s large menu. I can’t wait to go back for congee, wonton soup, more Taiwanese sausages and dumplings.

Young Cafe wasn’t the only place I had a lunch feast in Bellevue last week. I met up with a friend at Honest Restaurant, a vegetarian Indian restaurant that got its start as a street cart in 1975 in Ahmedabad, India.

The Bellevue location (one of more than two dozen Honest outposts in the U.S.) feels like a big cafeteria. You order at the counter and receive a number to place on one of the large tables after grabbing your own water and utensils. You can see much of the kitchen, including the person rhythmically swirling the batter as it cooks, creating the massive dosas.

Like Young Cafe, Honest has a large menu. There are curry dishes, sandwiches, small plates, pizzas, Indochinese dishes and rice dishes. It’s a lot — but the employee manning the counter was super helpful in helping us suss out what would be good dishes for sharing and how much to order.

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We ordered the dahi puri ($8.99), a masala dosa ($13.99), the Bahubali sandwich ($16.99) and a slice of Oreo cake ($5.99).

The sandwiches come on a thin layer of toast. The Bahubali was layered with savory sauces and a thick slice of paneer, and topped with melted cheese, diced bell peppers and a smattering of red pepper flakes. It was spicy but nice, served with a handful of potato chips.

The dosa crepe was lacy and crisp, with a wonderfully slight sour tang. It was stuffed with creamy turmeric-spiked potatoes and peas and served with a rich lentil stew called sambar, plus three distinct chutneys, varying in spice. This dish was pure comfort, a bright spot on a dreary day.

If the dosa was good for winter, the dahi puri had me yearning for summer. The little orbs were a revelation — small, crispy puffed shells stuffed with layers of cooled potato puree, a cold, spicy herb puree and yogurt. Topped with more yogurt and cilantro, they exploded in your mouth with a symphony of bright flavor. This would be the ultimate cooling dish during a summer heat wave.

Young Cafe 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m. daily; 667 156th Ave. S.E., Bellevue; 425-590-9058; youngcafewa.com

Honest Restaurant 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday; 2241 148th Ave. N.E., Bellevue; 425-449-8810; honestbellevue.com