I’m sure there are exceptions but state capitals tend to be almost non-places and definitely not food destinations. Sacramento? Albany? Salem? Have you ever been curious about sushi Oregon’s capital? Probably not.
Salem is full of lesser regional chains like Izzy’s and Pietro’s, and also a Sizzler. (I can’t believe the only one left in Portland that I was supposed to go to on a Tinder date but ended up going to with my grandma is gone.) I went to the Oregon State Fair earlier and decided to stay the night. Momiji was one of the few places open late on Sunday (until midnight) and I kind of like this level of non-purist sushi: crazy rolls, all-you-can-eat specials, and saloon doors separating a video poker room. A lot of businesses in Salem are low-slung and windowless like they are up to something.
You don’t even have to wear shoes.
When in Salem one must order the Salem roll, a holy trinity of cream cheese, avocado, and fake crab, fried tempura-style and drizzled with eel sauce. Momiji is the kind of place where you don’t feel guilty for ordering sushi with sweet and creamy sauces, though I still got some unadorned ikura and maguro.
I might’ve guessed that the poke on the appetizer list was just riding the wave of Hawaiian raw fish popularity, though it’s hard to say because I forgot how much of a Hawaiian presence there is in the NW. I’ve heard because many Hawaiians go to the University of Oregon and end up staying. I’ve been to multiple luaus in the 20 months that I’ve been visiting Portland. All that plus tempura was too much food.
Momiji * 4590 Silverton Rd., Salem, Oregon
Just around the corner from Khao Kang, in a similar rough wood style that all the new Elmhurst Thai restaurants seem to have adopted, is a newish cafe serving mostly Thai sweets. I don’t think the two businesses are related. (Ok, they are.)
Coconut pudding was a special so I tried an order of two (and I ate most of one before I took a photo). A salty layer of coconut cream hides a pale green gel flavored and colored with pandan. I also bought emerald sticky rice in a banana leaf, just because I love green and pandan might be my favorite natural scent in the world. They also have a short list of savories like curry puffs, salads, and noodles. I didn’t see any khanom bueang a.k.a. Thai tacos (crepes often with a marshmallow-like meringue which can be dressed up sweet or savory) though I think they do those as well.
The to-go packaging is cute, with a strong brand identity and a banana leaf laid inside the cardboard box. Tables inside have little place-markers that instead of names read cheeky words like “badass” or “sexy.” It’s something different, at least.
Khao Nom * 76-20 Woodside Av., Elmhurst, NY
I don’t know why I have never written about Khao Kang. I guess for the simple reason that I never write about anything here anymore. As 2017 starts coming to a close, I can finally admit to myself and the world that I am going to move early next year. I’m manifesting shit as I speak. My amazing Queens food days are numbered (#queens4lyfe became #queens4now) so I might go hard and devote a day to Queens eats for a month.
Khao Kang is maybe five blocks too far to run out for lunch when I work at home (Google Maps says it’s a 13 minute walk each way) but I’m going to try and remember it more. The concept is simple: you are given a big scoop of rice and can choose two ($8.50) or three dishes ($9) from 10 or presented behind glass to be ladled on the side.
It’s the closest thing to street and market vendors in Thailand with vats of earth-toned curries to choose from. But instead of tiny plastic chairs on the sidewalk, it’s more rough wood and dangling lights like a modern Bangkok restaurant.
Choices change daily, as I discovered on my last visit and they didn’t have the sweet crispy pork nuggets that I love. There are descriptions taped on the glass but I just go by what jumps out. On this trip I got a mild, almost Chinese tasting (I can’t pin down why I say that) shrimp and squid curry, yellow with turmeric, a fiery breaded fish and eggplant curry, as well as a dry curry with bamboo shoots and pork (there was a meatless version before). F.Y.I. hot is hot. I have a fairly high threshold for heat and some of these curries–I never know which ones, but always anything with bamboo shoots–are forceful.
Khao Kang * 76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, NY