When a city gets an international district, that’s a sign that your burg has achieved a level of interaction with the wider world. Spokane just designated its first official international district in 2009, but Airway Heights already has one — at least for foodies.
Chalk it up to the presence of Fairchild Air Force Base and its population of well-traveled military personnel. Along Highway 2, east of the base, you’ll find cuisines from around the world in small, locally owned restaurants that cater to customers who recognize authenticity when they taste it.
You’ll have to search a little bit to find HOUSE OF SEOUL: Look for the low-slung, nondescript building on the south side of the highway with the sign out front announcing, “Korean Restaurant.” Pull into the lot, drive around the west side of the building toward the back, and you’ll find this humble shop with red chairs and a handpainted mural of a traditional Korean countryside.
But once inside, it’s a treat of Korean hospitality. Each table gets an array of eight small appetizers: kim chi, the fiery pickled cabbage (in a decidedly less-fiery but fresh and tasty edition), of course, but also a variety of other pickled vegetables (zucchini, cucumber, bean sprouts, daikon radish and even shredded potato), plus sweet and dense black beans and the delicious Japanese fishcake.
Appetizers include meat-filled dumplings, or mandu, similar to Japanese gyoza or Chinese potstickers; they’re available either deep-fried (yaki mandu) or steamed (jin mandu) and served with a soy-garlic dipping sauce.
Korean food tends to be heartier than Japanese food, generally, and main courses are often based on meat, seafood, tofu or egg, blended with vegetables, and served with rice or noodles. The menu offers familiar options like a less-sweet version of teriyaki chicken ($7/$13) and traditional Korean favorites like kal bi (grill short ribs) and bi bim bop (rice with vegetables, shredded beef and egg).
Bulgogi is kind of the Korean version of barbecue.
It’s thin-sliced beef, marinated in a flavorful blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, fruit (for sweetness), garlic and ginger, then grilled quickly with vegetables. At House of Seoul, the bulgogi comes with a side of rice — a blend of mostly white rice, cooked to a slightly sticky consistency, with a touch of short-grain wild rice for contrasting color and texture. The meat is served sizzling hot and has a hint of sweetness, though it’s not as sweet as teriyaki. It’s a satisfying dish for American palates.
Owner Paul Kim has been cooking for 17 years, and he actually owned the restaurant for a brief time several years ago, but his most recent gig was working as a pit boss at Northern Quest Casino. A couple of years ago, he decided to get back into the restaurant business again, re-purchasing House of Seoul.
“Cooking is the easy part of running a restaurant,” he says. “The prep is the hard part.”
Kim was born in Korea and came to the U.S. as a young man just out of high school. Now his youngest daughter is 15. “Time passes like the blink of an eye,” he says. “Every moment is precious.”
Across the highway is SALA THAI (12926 W. Sunset Hwy.), another storefront shop where the emphasis is on the food rather than eye-popping décor. Classic rock is the incongruous soundtrack, but the flavors are pure Thai. The $7.50 lunch specials include the soup of the day and run the gamut from pad thai...