Arts & Entertainment

Off the El Eats: Bites Asian Tapas

Photos by Regina Merrill

Off-the-el-EatsAlthough it’s difficult to narrow down what my favorite food is, my favorite style of food is tapas. Tapas menus typically offer a lot of different dish sizes, and are perfect for sharing. While tapas are a Spanish concept, restaurants from a variety of cuisine have adopted the small plate style.

Bites Asian Tapas (3313 N. Clark St.), about a 10 minute walk off the Belmont Red Line stop, offers a pan-Asian take on this concept.

I went with a friend for lunch one afternoon, and we immediately liked the menu. It included “big bites” (bigger entrees), “small bites” (closer to tapas-size portions), sushi and buns, which are Asian-style sliders.

Both of us were pretty hungry, so we each ended up ordering our own “big bite” plate. I would definitely go back to try some of the smaller plates, though, such as the “drunk chicks” –– fried boneless chicken wings with Asian whiskey sauce ($7). The tuna tostada with a creamy sesame-soy dressing ($9) also looked delicious.

In addition to our entrees, we also split a bun filled with avocado fried in tempura batter ($3). There were many different types of buns, with both vegetarian and meat options, all between $3-4.50. The crispy shrimp cake with a spicy sriracha cream ($4) or pork char sui with pickled vegetables also sounded good ($3.50).

DSCF0471The bun we ordered had teriyaki and wasabi sauce, pickled vegetables, scallions and sesame seeds. It made the perfect appetizer because the avocado was still creamy on the inside of the light tempura shell, and the vegetables added a nice crunch to the warm steamed bun. Two or three of the different mini sandwiches would make a satisfying meal.

For my entree, I chose the “OMG” — a Thai-style omelette with scallions and tomatoes over American fried rice and cilantro ($8). The presentation was lovely — the fried rice was in a mound capped by the omelette and garnished with cilantro. However, the food itself wasn’t that exciting. I can’t really complain, because I got exactly what I ordered, an omelette and some fried rice.

For a dish called “OMG,” I was expecting something a little more exciting. A spicy sauce or some sort of filling for the omelette to tie everything together would have given the dish a much-needed flavor boost. It wasn’t that the quality was bad; the omelette was crispy and the rice underneath was fluffy and had a subtle sweetness to it, but it was kind of boring. There was no filling to the omelette, which would have been fine had it not been bland. I found myself pouring soy sauce on top to add flavor, and I wish I would’ve tried something more adventurous.

The menu also offers several types of ramen bowls, including a kimchi-ebi (kimchi with shrimp), shiitake and tofu and spicy miso. My friend ordered the green curry ramen with pork, which included cabbage, spinach, scallion, bamboo, shiitake, boiled egg and chili oil ($13).

The ramen was beautifully presented. Each ingredient was placed in its own section and the green broth made for a DSCF0472colorful bowl. The bowl was deep and seemed never-ending. It could have easily been two meals. My friend enjoyed the variety of vegetables, particularly the bamboo shoots, and sold the green curry was quite spicy. I tried one bite and couldn’t imagine eating another because the heat was far too much for me to handle. My friend, who likes spicy food, really enjoyed her dish, though.

I enjoyed the variety of Asian food,  and would go back with more people in order to try some of the tapas. Bites offers both lunch and dinner on the weekends, but is only open for dinner on weeknights. It would make a great dinner spot any night of the week because it has plenty of seating and friendly service. If you go, I would suggest asking for the waiter’s recommendations or looking at Yelp ahead of time, so you get one of the more interesting dishes.

Bites Asian Tapas is open Monday-Thursdays 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Fridays 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Saturdays 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. and Sundays 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.


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