RENTON — Gurminder Kaur has dreamed about opening her own restaurant ever since she was a girl in New Delhi learning her mother’s recipes. After numerous construction delays, her dream was realized with the opening of Renton’s Rice-N-Curry in March 2021.

A petite space located across from Piazza Park and the Renton Pavilion Events Center, Rice-N-Curry showcases all of Kaur’s favorite dishes: rich butter chicken, chicken biryani, yogurt-marinated reshmi tandoor paneer, bhuna gosht with lamb.

“There are a variety of the same dishes in Indian cuisine; it’s the cooking style that differs. I grew up in New Delhi where the butter chicken is unmatched in flavor,” Kaur says.

Kaur’s butter chicken ($14.99) is rich in flavor. There’s a slight heat, but it’s really layered with spices; the chicken is incredibly tender.

“You don’t feel the heat, you feel the flavors,” she says.

Along with the butter chicken, the chicken biryani ($15.99) is a dish she tells every first-time diner to try. Hers is tinged with saffron and herbs, flecked with whole black peppercorns and cumin seeds.

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Kaur, who has lived in Renton for 15 years, says she ate at many Indian restaurants around the area and couldn’t find the New Delhi flavors she was missing. Butter chicken tasted like a tomato soup; things were overly oily or spicy. She follows the technique she learned from her mother, making paneer fresh and marinating it overnight. Her dishes layer garlic, turmeric, cumin and fenugreek; “so many flavors go into every dish,” she says.

Her flavors are beginning to be noticed. Like any new restaurant, things were slow when she first opened. But she’s beginning to see repeat customers and is starting to remember names and faces. She’s in the kitchen every day with one other employee, and her nephew works the register up front. There’s a small covered area outside in the parking lot, but no indoor dining as of yet. Kaur says she’s keeping an eye on case counts and relying on guidance from local officials before opening her dining room to guests.

Despite all the difficulties of opening a restaurant during a pandemic, Kaur loves feeding people.  

“It’s a lifestyle. Opening a restaurant requires lots of time and you have to be passionate about it. I was very passionate about opening,” she says.

Rice-N-Curry; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 3-8 p.m. Tuesday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 601 S. Third St., Suite B, Renton; 425-264-5570; ricencurry.net

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Exit 5 Korean BBQ

11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily; 911 N. 10th Place, Ste. D, Renton; 425-291-7431; exit5kbbq.com

My brother Jake has been hyping this restaurant to me for at least a year. It’s his go-to place for dinners out and he loves nothing more than introducing a new person to the Exit 5 experience. I was hesitant — with two unvaccinated kids at home, I’m not doing a whole lot of indoor dining — but I finally succumbed and agreed to meet him and his girlfriend Ari there for lunch on a weekday.

Located in the expansive Renton Landing area and open since 2019, Exit 5 Korean BBQ is a cavernous space filled with long, gleaming stainless-steel tables, each fitted with a recessed grill. The first thing I noticed when walking in was the complete lack of smoke. The last Korean barbecue place I went to was in Las Vegas, where the grill haze was akin to the days of yesteryear when you could smoke indoors and bottles of Febreze littered the host stand for spritzing as you exited. At Exit 5, whisper-quiet fans beneath the tables whisk away all traces of smoke before it even leaves the grill surface.

There is a full menu available with classic Korean dishes: bibimbap and bulgogi, kimchi stews, japchae and fried chicken, but the main draw is the barbecue. We got the small beef combo ($85) designed to feed two to three people, which comes with brisket, seasoned boneless short rib and a choice of prime boneless short rib or rib-eye plus banchan, salad, rice and kimchi or soybean soup for the table. All that plus an order of sweet chili fried chicken ($16) was more than enough for the three of us.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, our table filled with food: potato salad, kimchi and bean sprouts banchan, a green salad tossed with a sesame vinaigrette, a heaping platter of beef, a caldron of bubbling kimchi soup and dipping sauces. Ari stepped in as our grill master, rubbing a chunk of beef fat on the warming grill for lubrication, and expertly cooked the beef.

Servers are eager to help if you need direction or even full-on cooking help. They’re monitoring closely to adjust the heat level and switch out your grill plate in case it becomes too dirty. The beef was incredibly tender, the banchan is bottomless — I especially loved the tangy kimchi and creamy potato salad. The fried chicken was crispy and shellacked with a coating that was more sweet than spicy (which wasn’t a bad thing). I can’t wait to go back.

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Pho Joe’s

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 1630 Duvall Ave. N.E., Unit A, Renton; 425-207-8630

Pho Joe’s offers substantial bowls of pho, the broth slicked with fat and bobbing with a wide, flat rice noodle, beef ribs and rare beef. (Jackie Varriano / The Seattle Times)

Located in a small strip mall, Pho Joe’s opened in September. Pho, banh mi, vermicelli bowls and rice dishes are all on the menu. The pho comes in one size; prices range from $10.95 for the rare beef to $26.95 for a pho stocked with rare beef, brisket, tendon, meatballs and tripe. I ordered the beef ribs with rare beef ($18.95) and the oxtail ($14.95).

The broth here is delicately perfumed with spices and light on the sweetness. There’s a wonderful shimmer and a slick of fat that will leave your lips lubricated. The noodles are wide and flat, which aren’t the best for takeout in my experience. I think mine steamed a bit too much in the Styrofoam container on my drive home from Renton, causing them to fall apart completely when introduced to the hot broth. Still, not a reason to be deterred from Pho Joe’s.

The beef ribs are fatty and fall-apart tender, the rare beef velvety. The oxtail was deeply beefy and a touch chewy. Maybe it’s sacrilegious, but I wanted a touch more salt on the oxtail. The portions are substantial, as are the accompanying garnishes. I had enough leftover sprouts to add to salad for added crunch twice after. As we face many wet, rainy days ahead, Pho Joe’s will be a perfect spot for soup.