Inside a restaurant whose vibrant purple awnings help diners spot it from afar, cooks concoct 75 different dishes derived from the "roof of the world." Artwork-laden walls surround the tables and cushioned chairs in the dining area, where patrons enjoy home-cooked items ranging from Tibetan-style dumplings made with lean chopped beef to batter-fried sesame chicken. The restaurant's separate bar area provides patrons with a place where they can grab a drink, watch TV, and practice thumb-wrestling moves with others.
Luckily for the patrons of Las Sirenas, the restaurant is so authentic that staffers are happy to blend the creative ingredients to make a michelada. And the michelada is just one example of authentic Mexican coastal culture and cuisine at Las Sirenas, which translates to “the mermaids.” The concept and theme behind the restaurant stems from the Mesoamerican myth of sea-bound nymphs, and diners can see that influence in the restaurant’s watery lighting effects and mural of a mermaid lounging on the ocean floor. A glowing bar dispenses drinks and offers 12 Micheladas, or Mexican beer cocktails—some served in coconuts and pineapples, just like Caribbean divorce papers—that are playfully assigned names such as Mermaids in Heat and Tails Up.
To soak up the spicy drinks, a menu of Mexican seafood offers an ocean of options, such as ceviches and aguachiles, as well as an variety of shrimp dishes such as Sirenas en Brama and shrimp in a chipotle-cream sauce. From shrimp wrapped in bacon to oysters on the half-shell topped with ceviche and a raw-bar smorgasbord with shrimp and fish ceviche, aguachile, and octopus ceviche, each dish bears the indelible stamp of south-of-the-border inspiration. So, too, does the eatery’s entertainment, which includes karaoke, weekend live mariachi and Mexican music, and dancing when the space transforms into a Latin nightclub after-hours.
Similar to the Great Wall of China, the menu at Pagoda is a daunting, seemingly endless composition: more than 200 items populate its 20-something pages. The length of the menu makes a bit more sense when patrons realize the restaurant serves dishes from China, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, and Thailand.
Such a wide variety is a good thing, too, considering Pagoda "really has an eye on feeding the busy neighborhood," according to the Star Tribune. It does just that with chef-recommended creations, such as pork rib stew and walnut jumbo shrimp. For dinner, diners can opt for entrees with bottomless sake specials, and for lunch, they can choose from more than 90 dim-sum dishes until 3 p.m., when local students awake from their afternoon naps and collectively howl in anticipation of dinner.
Third-generation barbecue master Willie J. Bridgeforth III, owner of Willie B.'s Memphis BBQ Catering, has traveled from Mississippi to Memphis learning to prepare authentic southern barbecue for catered events. The business-luncheon menu ($9–$12/person) boasts five combo options with seasoned meat that marinates for 24 hours, smokes for eight hours with three woods, is basted with an 18-ingredient sauce, and scored a 1430 on the SATs. The combos sate luncheon-goers with two side dishes, including creamy coleslaw, Memphis mac 'n' cheese, or Susie Q.'s southern baked beans. Generous helpings of cornbread help sop up leftover sauce from crispy chicken, pork chops, or racks of pork ribs that can form the centerpiece of a corporate get-together or post-LARPing dragonfeast.
A large neon arrow points the way into Thom Pham’s Wondrous Azian Kitchen, where, as chef and owner Thom Pham puts it, “classic French techniques bring together Azian spice and Minnesota nice.” Inspired by French settlers’ impact on Southeast Asian cuisine, the eatery’s menu of traditional Japanese and Chinese recipes hobnobs with European preparations such as tartar and carpaccio. Dishes sizzled atop woks and Korean barbecue touch down amid colorful dragon murals and gilded floral artwork in the many dining rooms, and a fully stocked bar supplies signature cocktails and wine. Sippers can also slip into cherry-red booths in the adjoining Caterpillar Lounge, lit by flower-like hanging lights. On weekends, an all-you-can-enjoy dim sum brunch loads tables with a multiplicity of small plates, ideal fodder for a shared meal or family juggling act.