Located downtown on East Elk Avenue, Red Chili is tucked away in a “shotgun shop” storefront, so named because when the weather is warm you can stand in the front door and see clear out the back door to the parking lot beyond.
Red Chili is open just four days a week, and then only for the lunch crowd. The pleasant, grasshopper-green interior features some interesting mosaics and pottery on the wall. The place has seating for just 24 patrons at any one time and features a Korean menu, a branch of the Asian cuisine tree that rarely gets climbed.
Korean cookery is a remarkable collection of stews, stir-fry, some grilled offerings and noodle dishes, mostly derived from their immediate neighbors and then given a unique Korean twist.
(My introduction to it was years ago over a bowl of “naeng myeong,” cold buckwheat noodles served classically with a slice or two of boiled beef “au jus.” Don’t sneer, it’s pretty good stuff.)
My friends and I were in town for Elizabethton’s Downtown Car Show, and we decided to do lunch at Red Chili on recommendation from our Carnivore friend. After seating us, our server Ashley offered advice on our choices for lunch.
Being July, Red Chili had their summer entrees on the menu in addition to the regulars. My dining partner chose the Yaki-Soba with Beef ($9.95) while the Dieter picked the Buckwheat Noodle Salad ($9.95). The Carnivore ordered Kickin’ Chicken, ($8.95) a house special, while I chose the Spicy Tuna Hand Roll ($10.95).
While we were waiting, the Carnivore looked out front and spotted a gorgeous 1955 Chevrolet Bel-Air pulling in that looked (he said) just like the one his old girlfriend drove off the pier. Suddenly curious, I was about to request elaboration when the Dieter came out and let us know that our meals were ready.
My dining partner’s Yaki-Soba was a yellow soba noodle stir-fry of chicken and vegetables in Red Chili’s special soy and teriyaki-based sauce. The noodles were just “al dente” enough to add body to the meal, while the chicken and veggies were done to a turn. It was fun watching her twirl up a forkful of soba noodles, and then cap them on the fork with a broccoli floret, a slice of sautéed chicken, or a morsel of Korean pear, and then down the hatch with all of it.
The Dieter’s salad was presented in a beautiful white pottery bowl. The buckwheat noodles were just as I remembered them, slightly warm and well-mixed with the breast of chicken slices stirred into the Asian vegetable combo and balsamic sesame dressing.
The Carnivore’s Kickin’ Chicken arrived bubbling on a hot iron platter, the rising steam redolent of Asian spices, grilled chicken and fresh vegetables.
The spiciness of the dish had a cumulative effect with each bite the Carnivore took. With just a few spoonfuls left, out came his handkerchief for a brow wipe-down.
My inquiry into his well-being got a gasping “Great. Just fine” in return.
“Not too spicy then?”
“Not a bit,” was the croaked rejoinder as my friend reached for his water glass.
Lastly, my spicy tuna roll was a work of art. Each piece was built around a leaf of Romaine lettuce filled with sushi-grade yellowfin tuna slices, a spicy rice, onions and peppers mixture, then bundled up with a coned sheet of nori-wrap. A lettuce, tuna and rice cone that was absolutely delicious, especially with a dribble of the house soy sauce added for taste.
Ashley told us that Red Chili does appetizers, and the menu additions change with the seasons. Red Chili sometimes stays open later, especially if there’s a downtown event going on. My advice is to adjust your calendar, rearrange your schedule to match Red Chili’s and go have lunch. It is that good.
435 E. Elk Avenue
Wed-Sat, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cash or check only