A spread of small plates at Food Terminal (clockwise from left): crispy pig ears, watercress with black bean, nuomiji, shiitake ground pork and curry fish balls. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Much of that comes down to the simple, astounding fact that the kitchen actually pulls this huge menu off. That first night, our random assortment of dishes, chosen from nearly every section of the menu, landed on the table without a single dud. A bowl of garlic noodles topped with salty fish eggs (mentaiko) lit our taste buds up with lightning strikes of pleasure and flavor. Fried slices of pig ears were both crisp and gelatinously tender. Szechuan dumplings were fiery but focused, the depth of those peppercorns as well defined as the dumpling wrappers. Cumin beef skewers sang out their herby essence. A big plate of barbecue pork, cooked red, tender and salty sweet, brought us to meaty, glorious satisfaction.
My meals since have been similarly consistent, no matter what menu section I order from. It is an accomplishment that I imagine has been no small effort for owners Amy Wong and Howie Ewe, even considering their previous experience running their small chain of Sweet Hut bakeries. It is also a loving celebration of the diversity of Malaysia, those various and wide-ranging menu options mirroring the myriad cultures and ethnicities that call that country home.
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I’ve even come around to the name. Food Terminal sounds a little impersonal, which is at least correct in signaling that this isn’t a singular chef’s vision. You never get the feeling that one chef is trying to satisfy an ego by putting personal or biographical touches on these dishes. In place of that singularity, Wong and Ewe have hired a small army of cooks, all of which can be seen in the massive open kitchen tending to various tasks. They’re ladling out rich bowls of bone marrow broth or cranking out hundreds of orders of fresh noodles or crisping up roti on the griddle or mixing bottles of San Pellegrino with house-made syrups for bright, flavored sodas.
Looking for a satisfying solo lunch? Try the Szechuan bone marrow noodle soup at Food Terminal on Buford Highway. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
There is still some room for improvement. A handful of beers are available on tap or in bottles, but a wine list would be a welcome addition. At a couple of recent dinners, I longed for a cold bottle of gruner veltliner or a dry riesling on the table, a crisp white would be such a fine pair for the mélange of flavors here. I’d love those homemade sodas even more if I could spike them into a cocktail at night. The servers are not quite seasoned at guiding diners through the big menu, though they’re friendly and helpful enough.
From Vietnamese pho to authentic tacos, the 49-mile stretch that is Buford Highway has it all Stop by Crawfish Shack for their fresh, sweet shrimp fried in a light cornmeal batter Or head to Royal China for a stream of carts full of shrimp dumplings, pork buns and custards Indulge in tacos made with handmade tortillas at El Rey Del Taco Part coffeehouse, part bubble tea shop and part bakery, Sweet Hut is our choice for treats While there are dozens of places to get pho and banh mi, Lee’s Bakery has fab
But these little gaps in finesse are more than made up for by Food Terminal’s versatility. The key to understanding the menu is knowing that your options allow for different experiences. Want a simple but satisfying solo lunch? Belly up to the bar and order a bowl of bone marrow noodle soup, as rich as any bowl of tonkatsu ramen in this town, floating with cubes of tender five-spice seasoned pork belly, a luscious runny egg and a couple of bones dripping with beef marrow. I like that one spiked with the spicy Szechuan chili oil and served with a glass of the refreshing ginger soda on the side.
Ginger soda is one of the sodas mixed fresh at Food Terminal in Chamblee. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Looking for a funky date? A bowl of the Thai chili pan mee, a massive order of flat noodles tossed with dried fish, ground pork, fried egg and a not-too-spicy sambal, with some curry fish balls and a side plate of roti canai will easily please two. You’ll nearly be in Thailand by the end of the meal. Want to drink beer and nibble the night away on a budget? The small plates and skewers all run about five bucks and include stone cold dim sum classics like nuomiji, a mild but deeply satisfying sticky mold of chicken and rice, and shiitake pork cheong fun (long rice dumplings). If you want to order one of the rolling hot plates, which are more or less sizzling stone bowls of fried rice surrounded by a ring of scrambled egg, count on bringing friends and ordering heaps of steamed veggies to balance it out.
But even if you go with no plan, like we did that first night, know that there’s no reason to be a skeptic. Whatever lands on your table will be a happy destination. Lately I think that’s the other reason Food Terminal chose that name. The menu will take you wherever you’d like to go.
Overall rating: 3 of 4 stars (excellent)
Service: friendly, efficient
Best dishes: bone marrow noodle soup, Thai chili pan mee, garlic noodles, nuomiji, crispy pig ears, roti canai
Vegetarian selections: many
Price range: $-$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Sundays
Parking: large parking lot
Reservations: not necessary
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: medium
Address, phone: 5000 Buford Highway, Chamblee, Ga. 30341. 678-353-6110