For lovers of hole-in-the-wall spots, the food counters found inside many Asian markets are great spots to sample a variety of foods, some of which aren't found in traditional restaurants. Most have atmospheres akin to a food court, diner, or cafeteria, but that just means the food is less expensive. And many of the ingredients are fresher since most of them come from the market itself.
Two local Chinese markets, Maxim and Great Wall offer great deals on their prepared foods. For around $6, choose from three dishes on top of rice — not unlike the Panda Express model. But the dishes are anything but Panda Express. Instead, try braised mini pork ribs, chicken stir-fried with bamboo shoots, fried fish with miniscule threads of seaweed dotting the batter, and a rotating variety of stir-fried Chinese greens. Look for packs of homestyle dishes not found in restaurants, such as soy sauce duck wings. Or take home roasted ducks, barbecue pork, and buns.
The sushi counter in Bethesda's Hinata may be diminutive, but the variety of seafood on offer is stunning. From scallops to lobster and purple clams, it's a wonder how they fit it all into such a small space. Worth another look is the selection of traditional maki, including plum shiso, burdock, and natto.
For lovers of Thai food, Thai Market in Silver Spring offers a variety of curries and noodle dishes in its adjoining restaurant. A little further north in Wheaton, Hung Phat has a similar selection of dishes at its takeaway counter along with banh mi wrapped to go and fried tart bananas and taro slices in a sesame seed and coconut-laced batter.
The restaurants at Korean markets tend to more closely resemble conventional restaurants. At the various Lotte Plaza and H Mart locations, there is a full selection of Korean fare, including soups, stews, noodle dishes, rice bowls, and soondae (blood sausage). Some of the outposts also serve sushi, udon, and Chinese food, often with twist.
Though all of these spots are outside of the city, having a meal at one of them can make a trip to the nearest Asian market a little more worth the effort. So stock up on all the Asian cooking essentials: inexpensive and unique produce, sauces, a wide variety of noodles and dumplings, hard to find cuts and offal, live seafood, inexpensive cookware, fun little snacks. Then head to the food counter to fill up before heading back into town.
— Jamie Liu
[Photo: Grounded Table]