As a general rule of thumb, I do my best to avoid dining at restaurants that have more than one cuisine going on. You know the type I’m talking about — the confused restaurant that can’t seem to figure out what they cook best and end up having sections for burgers and Chinese food, while also claiming it has the best doughnuts in the city. Then my family took me to the cozy, welcoming, and surprisingly affordable restaurant, The Spice Jar, which turned out to be the exception to the rule.
While every heritage has its own version of comfort food, so does every family, and even every individual. This concept is embodied in the menu at the still fairly new eatery (it’s not yet one year old). This Pan-Asian eatery prides itself on successfully incorporating the best flavors, ingredients, and of course, spices, of comfort food from across Asia, into its own interpretations of family-style comfort food. Owner and chef, Ryuichi Hamada’s menu takes common dishes and reinvents them with an unexpected, though delightful, deviation from the norm.
Starters range from traditional steamed dumplings and refreshing chicken lettuce cups to more creative small plates such as the seafood cast iron fondue, which features a mix of seafood and black olives in an olive oil fondue. A personal favorite is the super fresh albacore carpaccio, which comes with chopped jalapeños in a house-made spicy ponzu sauce. For those looking for a heartier appetizer, definitely get the bone-in braised spare rib bao — the meat falls right off the bone, perfect for wrapping within the warm, soft bao bun. The Spice Jar also offers inspired salads like the crispy calamari salad with vermicelli and a red curry honey dressing.
Those of you that are of Asian descent — I’m half Filipino myself — know that no proper meal can be complete without noodles and/ or rice! At The Spice Jar, offerings range from the Vietnamese chicken noodle soup (Pho Ga), to the savory ramen selections that include the tonkotsu-shoyu ramen, that features tender braised spare rib meat in a rich, silky broth, and the spicy sesame miso ramen that features ground chicken. It also serves coconut-based soups such as the Laksa, a curry broth with seafood and noodles, and the seafood Zen noodle soup with basil.
Furthermore, chef Hamada’s fried rice dishes are incredibly delicious, especially when paired with other courses. My favorite is the egg, spinach, and garlic fried rice, but it also has its own version of combination fried rice with chicken and shrimp. Bigger main dishes accommodate any palate, whether you’re craving a warming green curry or more carnivorous meals like the “Mongorian” beef, chick or lamb, or the hanger steak mushu wraps with a Korean BBQ influence. Also available are the vegetarian options of the lightly spice-crusted salmon atop a bed of brown rice and the tofu Portobello steak.
Next time you’re near the corner of 23rd and Bryant, stop by The Spice Jar for an eclectic and lively atmosphere, and its locally sourced, Asian-inspired, comfort-food filled menu.