Prepare your palate for new eateries in Tacoma, Puyallup and Gig Harbor
SUE KIDD; Staff writer
A flurry of restaurant openings is keeping me busy. This week and next, I’ll tell you about six restaurants that have entered the scene in six weeks.
Today, I’ll introduce you to Cheers Downtown, which opened Feb. 23 in the old McCabe’s location that had been shuttered. I also dug into the Thai and Vietnamese menus of Pho the Best, which opened mid-January on Puyallup’s South Hill. I also have a short report on JW, a Gig Harbor restaurant opening today.
Next week, check back for reports on Crockett’s Public House, which opened last week in downtown Puyallup, and a first bite of the brisket and ribs of Mesquite BBQ, which opened in January on South Tacoma Way. I also will give you the scoop on Gibson’s Frozen Yogurt, which opened mid-February in Tacoma’s Stadium neighborhood.
If you haven’t been to Cheers South Hill, think of it as an upscale sports bar with a hint of sophistication. (Read: Nobody will spill a plastic keg cup of beer on you. They use actual glasses. And they have bathrooms you don’t have to be afraid to go into.) The menu runs wide and deep with heavy emphasis on bar food, sandwiches and decadent stuffed burgers I’ve written about twice (and named on my list of “Top 20 Burgers You Need To Eat Before You Die” published in December).
Cheers opened its sister restaurant Cheers Downtown on Feb. 23 in Tacoma in the location that formerly housed McCabe’s.
I checked in at Cheers Downtown and found a sports bar in an expansive space with high ceilings and tiered dining areas. Seating is well-spaced, and I liked that. One area is reserved for family dining. A mammoth stone fireplace provides a stunning focal point at the center of the restaurant. You can’t turn your head without your eyes hitting a flat panel television.
The restaurant serves solidly executed bar eats that don’t hover much above the $10-$12 range. Considering the venue has free parking in an adjacent lot and is so close to the Tacoma Dome, I predict this will be a popular destination during Dome events.
The food was executed with near precision, which impressed me considering the restaurant was in its first days. Service was friendly but spotty. Nice and polite servers can make up for some gaffes, but when appetizers and entrees show up around the same time, straws for beverages go missing, and a server forgets what a diner ordered and has to return to the table to ask – these are clear signs the crew is inexperienced.
The food is similar to what you’ll find at Cheers South Hill. The stuffed burgers ($11.95) I like so much are on the menu in seven varieties. We ordered the jalapeno popper whopper burger, but we received the stuffed jalapeño with pepperjack cheese. Wrong order or not, it was a decadent stuffed burger that oozed melted cheese and was laden with pickled jalapeños, surrounded by a toasted, grilled bun and crisp lettuce and tomatoes. The crispy-crunchy breaded jacket on the fish and chips lunch special ($6.95) broke to reveal flaky cod inside. A Cuban sandwich ($10.95) was a monster portion with four wedges of grilled flatbread stuffed with the double-pork punch of ham and roasted pork, finished with a smear of whole-grain mustard, swiss cheese and crunchy pickle wedges.
Fries came with everything we ordered but tasted of the freezer variety instead of fresh.
PHO THE BEST
I applaud when I see a new restaurant that does not come with an enormous attached corporate entity in South Hill, the land of chains. But just because a restaurant is not a chain does not guarantee it is worthy of your dining dollars.
I liked the sharp and stylish decor of Pho The Best, a combination Vietnamese-Thai restaurant that opened in January a few doors down from the Rock Wood Fired Pizza. However, the food and pricing at Pho The Best has stiff competition from nearby Ayothaya, a longtime South Hill Thai institution across Meridian, and Pho Tai, an inexpensive and consistently excellent Vietnamese restaurant a short distance away.
That’s not to say Pho The Best is a flop. It’s not. It just didn’t make me want to stray from my go-to restaurants Ayothaya or Pho Tai. The restaurant landscape of South Hill offers plenty of choices for Thai and Vietnamese, and newcomers need to lift the bar. Pho The Best didn’t do that for me during two visits.
I found the pork phad Thai ($9.99) overly sweet, with no spicy or sour dimension to the rice noodle dish. The larb ($9.99) – a chopped chicken salad – was sufficiently sour with lime and came in a pretty display, but the chicken was chewy and dry. And where was the promised mint? The pho broth ($6.95, small) tasted strongly of beef but lacked the fragrant, aromatic notes that give Vietnamese noodle soup dimension.
Thai noodles ($9.95) held just the right amount of spicy tease in the creamy peanut sauce, and the dish was threaded with an abundance of Thai basil (bonus points for that). However, the beef was dry and leathery, and the wide noodles were soggy and overcooked. The dish left me shaking my head.
I paid a visit a few days later to Ayothaya for comparison’s sake. Larb gai ($7.49) was a copious serving of Thai chicken salad with just the right hit of spice and puckery lime. The salad came stuffed into a hollowed cucumber, a nice visual touch. The pork phad Thai ($8.59), like Pho the Best, bordered on too sweet, but the heat and pucker in the rice noodles balanced the flavors. Heavenly coriander ($8.59) came with thinly sliced and tender beef swimming in a watery but tasty sweet-salty sauce with bursts of flavor from coriander seeds and crunch from snappy snow peas, mushrooms and bell peppers.
The face and initials will be familiar to anyone who is a frequent diner in Gig Harbor. Jason Winniford, the former general manager of Gig Harbor’s Brix 25, is opening his own eatery – JW Restaurant – in downtown Gig Harbor.
Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail Winniford sent out last week about his new restaurant: “I have been busy working on a 15-year project in the making. The time has finally come to unveil the curtain and launch my newest endeavor. On March 4, my family and I will open JW Restaurant in downtown Gig Harbor. My dream of owning my own restaurant has now become a reality. And with the help and support of my father Joe, stepmother Karen and chef Justin, I couldn’t be more excited. The final stage is almost set, and the last details are being pulled together. We have torn down walls, installed roofs and floors, slapped on fresh paint, brought in tables and chairs, wine
and beer! And we are now almost ready to show it all off to you!”
Call the restaurant for reservations. I’ll have more details soon.
Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270, email@example.com