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March 20, 2008

Din Ho Chinese BBQ, 8557 Research Blvd

North Austin strip-center goodness never ends — it seems you can walk into nearly any joint crammed between a discount furniture shop and an ethnic grocery and find a linoleum-floored, wood paneled gem serving up something hearty and authentic. The jumble of shops next to the Target on 183 has given us the exemplary Vietnamese of Sunflower and one of my latest favorites, Din Ho.

If you've never had the pleasure of entering a restaurant with glistening ducks and pigs hanging in the front window (it's common in Asia), you'll enjoy seeing the specialties of the house prior to their surrender to the cleaver. I recommend dragging a couple of vegan friends along for comic relief, though they may not dine out with you again. That's too bad, because Din Ho does a better job with veggies than most Chinese joints. If you've had your fill of greens drenched in grease and hoison sauce, order up a plate of Din Ho's snow pea leaves with garlic - they're simple and very nearly "light," and your stomach will thank you for the roughage once the onslaught of oink and quack begins.

PIg and duck, of course, are what Chinese BBQ is all about, and Din Ho excels at both. The roasted pork (char sui) is juicy, sweet and laced with luscious fat; the duck is hacked up on the bone, and you'll get messy tearing through the tender skin, fat and meat. Both come out lukewarm with rice only; they need little else.

Once you've worked your way through the critters in the window, try the soups and some of the other specialties. The snow pea leaf soup with tofu and ground pork is earthy and straightforward. The "salt pork chop" is actually slices of pork deep-fried in a mildly sweet batter served with hot peppers. Turns out, it's not spicy at all; in fact, it's the closest thing I've ever had to a pork beignet, which, if it exists somewhere, would be a damn good thing.

DIn Ho deftly balances heavy with light; consequently, if you get your kicks from the overwhelming deluge of rich, sweet sauces typical to stateside Chinese cooking, you might leave disappointed. This is simple stuff, like Texas barbecue, and it's really all about the meat. Atmosphere is minimal; decor is dated and wood-paneled; service is attentive but impersonal. Food is damn good and inexpensive. What else do you need?


Posted by brentbuford at March 20, 2008 04:06 PM


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