One of the highlights at Food Terminal is Grandma’s Wonton BBQ Pork with thin noodles, wontons, bok choy, bean sprout, spring onion and fried shallot. (Mia Yakel)
Photo: Mia Yakel
Photo: Mia Yakel

Food Terminal’s gateway to great flavor

Story by Curt Holman

If you order Grandma’s Wonton BBQ Pork Tossed Noodle at Food Terminal – which is something you should definitely do – don’t sleep on the wontons.

Usually the three fried wontons, golden brown and cinched at the ends, sit modestly on the side of the bowl. You’re more likely to focus on the morsels of pork, the soft green bok choy or the fried egg that lies languidly across the bed of tossed noodles. What should your chopsticks snag first?

Food Terminal’s chefs certainly do Grandma proud: every element in the BBQ Pork Tossed Noodle tastes great. The pork is so sweet it tastes almost candied, but not overpoweringly so. The richness of the egg, the wholesome texture of the noodles, the crunchiness of the bok choy, the sauce pooling at the bottom – they can make the wontons seem almost like a garnish or an afterthought. But bite through a wonton’s crispy surface and hello, the juicy, meaty release of flavors takes the dish to a whole other level.

A bargain at $9.50, Grandma’s BBQ Pork Tossed Noodle is the kind of signature dish that presents diners with a delicious dilemma. It’s so satisfying that you’ll be tempted to order it at every visit, and you’ll be satisfied. But it sets such a high standard that it makes you curious to see what else the cooks have up their sleeves. Food Terminal can inspire you to devote months sampling every item available, the roti and rolling hot plates, the skewers and satay tofu, the soups and spare ribs.

Just as Grandma’s BBQ works like a gateway to Food Terminal’s menu, the restaurant itself can feel like a gateway to Buford Highway’s vast culinary variety. It gives newcomers a friendly place to start and long-time visitors a new reason to come back. As a Chamblee resident for 20 years and a BuHi habitué for longer than that, I’ve seen favorite restaurants close their doors, change ownership or sadly lose their mojo over time. Food Terminal’s fresh dash of excitement rejuvenates Buford Highway as a dining destination.

Don’t expect one of the scruffy but pleasing holes in the wall that line the thoroughfare: Food Terminal has a sleek, hip design. The airy, high-ceilinged dining room sports a color scheme of blacks and greys, accented with yellow-greens and softened with occasional strands of white Christmas lights.

Owners Amy Wong and Howie Ewe opened the restaurant in 2017 as a tribute to Malaysian street food, with the menu citing the country’s culinary influences from India and China’s Ghuang Zhou, Hokkien, Teochew and Hakka provinces. Next to the waiting area, a wiry wall sculpture pays playful tribute to pushcart dining.

Another pleasant surprise is the menu, a glossy, 60-page magazine with huge, colorful photos of the dishes. Tables also come with check lists of every available app and entree (about 100, not counting drinks or desserts), so you can make selections dim sum style, or simply order the traditional way with one of the patient servers.

To cover as much culinary territory as possible, consider making a meal of small plates. The Crispy Unagi Bao is essentially a slider-sized sandwich of eel, cucumber, avocado, mayonnaise and green leaf on a brioche bun, with a rich and complex flavor combination. The teriyaki chicken wing skewers, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and satay tofu salad collectively corner many of Food Terminal’s specialties. (I’ve yet to sample the crispy pig’s ear, but it certainly looks good on other people’s tables.)

On my last visit, I left my comfort zone of Grandma’s BBQ Noodle and tried the Garlic Bone Marrow Noodle Soup, which features cubes of tender, five-spice pork belly, thin noodle, seaweed and soft-boiled egg, with big chunks of bone just beneath the surface of the broth, like coral reefs. With a silky consistency, the soup’s prominent but not overwhelming garlic fragrance created an eye-opening experience not unlike aromatherapy.

Such entrees as the Kari Chicken and Beef Rendang are hot and peppery, but even if your taste buds aren’t smoldering from curries, the coconut ice cream makes a refreshing desert. Plus, Food Terminal’s fruity teas and other specialty drinks can go easily overlooked. The tart raspberry lemonade soda and the virgin mojito soda with mint leaf and lime juice justify a visit even on their own: you can sit at the bar and watch at the exhibition kitchen, or choose something sweet from the dessert case.

Many of the international restaurants along Buford Highway emphasize either accessibility or authenticity, with latter seldom making concessions to American palates. Food Terminal strikes an ideal balance and feels welcoming to either the BuHi unitiated or culinary globetrotters. Either way, for a first visit I know a great starting point – wontons and all.

5000 Buford Highway, B-201. 678-353-6110.

Insider tip

Food Terminal’s owners also own the bakery Sweet Hut a few blocks away at Asian Square. Sweet and savory standouts include the Portuguese egg tart, ham and cheese bun, spring onion bun and Hokkaido cupcake

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