The Counter at Paldo Market

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Carol Blonder
Paldo Market counter

Earlier this summer, we debuted a new Chow Bella feature, "Dare to Dine" -- in which a totally terrified member of our staff agrees to eat at a restaurant chosen by one of his or her colleagues. For the first assignment, we sent Web Editor Jonathan McNamara to Sing High Chop Suey House in downtown Phoenix. He survived, and in return was rewarded the right to make the next dare: He sent a trained chef to a row of red bar stools in the back of an out of the way Tempe Korean grocery, Paldo Market. Here's what Jonathan had to say about it:

Dare to Dine is a game of Russian Roulette. Somewhere in your environment is an eatery with a fifty-fifty chance of providing you with culinary delight or severe stomach problems. Of course you want to know which side of the scales it's on, but why risk your own gastro-intestinal well-being when you can send a patsy?

Paldo Market is an immaculately clean Korean market in Tempe, hidden away in a shopping center with a gym, a pizza place and a furniture rental store. You'd hardly know it was a market from the outside; let alone that the market has an actual dining counter in the very back corner of the store. I've shopped here numerous times and walked by that dining counter (which is all of two feet from a refrigerated section of the store) and never seen a cook or any patrons. I wanted to know if the counter actually served anything and, if so, whether it is a diamond in the rough or an after-thought taking up space in a grocery store. I knew Carol Blonder would find out and that I could trust her opinion on the joint.

Find out how Carol fared, after the jump.

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Carol Blonder
spicy squid and banchan

Good thing my dare to dine instructions included the key word red stools. If not, I could have just wandered the aisles of Paldo Market, filled my basket with seaweed the length of a broomstick, a variety of house made kimchee, guchujang paste, and gimbap and called it a good shopping discovery.

The dining counter sits across from a cold case filled with freshly prepared Korean fare to go. Framed by overhanging curtains, it's easy to mistake it for a simple pass through to the prepared food kitchen unless already occupied with diners.

When I accepted the dare to dine challenge, my Korean menu vocabulary was limited to kimchee, gimbap, bulgogi, kalbi and knowledge of a few signature ingredients like the guchujang (chili) paste. It was a relief that the counter menu was printed with loose English translations, except for the daily special. The special remained a mystery to me until I was joined at the counter by a young couple who gave me a quick tutorial in Korean cuisine.

I wanted to try a dish I hadn't tried before in a Korean restaurant, so I ordered the spicy squid. Stir fired with green chili, red pepper flakes and soy the squid was served with steaming white rice and 3 banchan (side dishes), fish cake, chive pancakes, and crab cakes. The squid was toothsome outside and tender within, coated with plenty of sauce to mix with the rice. The thin pieces of fish cake coated with a sesame sauce and sesame seed garnish and the chive pancakes were a mellow contrast to the spicy squid. The squid and the small plates had a fresher taste and better flavor than any meal I've eaten inside a local Asian market.

Eyeing the meals served to the other diners at the counter, I noticed each dish came with different banchan: small cured anchovies (myulchi bokkeum), neon green ocean salad (seaweed and cellophane noodles), and cucumber kimchee. I discovered the special was sujebi (hand torn noodle soup), the broth made from anchovy and kelp and filled with chunks of potato and wide flat torn noodles.
The portions were generous enough to require a take out container for my leftovers, inspiring a stop at the cold case to stock up on the house made goodies on my way out. That led to a browse through the aisles filled with Korean imports, then the fresh produce, and on to the whole fresh fish and meats ready for the grill. I dared to dine and then I shopped till I dropped. I left feeling sorry that this little gem is far from my neighborhood.

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Oh my God, I just went here.  Best Korean food I've ever had in my life.  And everyone was so friendly!!  It's too bad I never heard about this place till now, it's just down the street from me too!


I found a site where you can get coupons for restaurant called "Printapon" they are on all over the news, search online

Dominic Armato
Dominic Armato

Y'know, guys, at the risk of taking things too seriously, I'm really of two minds about this Dare to Dine thing.

On one hand, (almost) anything that highlights hole-in-the-wall ethnic stuff is fabulous. Bravo on that count.

On the other hand, am I the only one who feels extremely icky about the subtext that the way to get people to go is to *dare* them?  That you're risking your health by eating at a family-run restaurant?  That a visit to places like these is a stunt?  Something to be survived?

I know, I know, it's trying to come up with an angle and have a little fun with it.  But I worry that all this approach does is feed people's irrational fears and unfortunate prejudices... the notion that a visit to a little ethnic joint is something to read and laugh about... not actually do.

Tell me if I just need to lighten up, here.

Jonathan McNamara
Jonathan McNamara


First off, thanks for reading the blog and chiming in with your comment. We don't always respond, but we always read them. 

"Dare to Dine" is a new concept for us. We're still ironing out the kinks. The premise is to send our writers into the places that get overlooked; the hole in the wall eateries that you pass by on your daily commute and that you always tell yourself you'll check out one day. Maybe it's the best hidden eatery in the Valley. Maybe it's a health inspection nightmare. The point is, you won't know till you try it out. 

The idea is to celebrate that spirit of eating outside the (jack in the) box. In a city where a lot of folks get their chow from chains, we want to find the hidden gold where it exists and lead folks away from the places where it doesn't. 

Speaking of which, if you have a "Dare to Dine" candidate in mind, please let us know. 

Dominic Armato
Dominic Armato

Oh, I completely understand that, and couldn't agree more with the goal.  I have a similar project I've been anxious to get started on myself (kid #2 starts school week after next, and I can get cranking!).  And there's nothing better than getting places like these out there, as you suggest, for better or worse.  I just question whether the way it's couched doesn't simultaneously reinforce the old, misinformed tropes about family-run ethnic dining. The "dirty ethnic restaurant" is one of the most tired and frustrating cliches in the book. Even back home, I'd encounter folks who wouldn't set foot in Chinatown because "all the restaurants are dirty and you'll get sick." It's an attitude that actually drives business away from these places, and it really doesn't need reinforcement. Plus, as everybody in California learned when health inspection grades started going up in windows, it isn't even grounded in fact. Appearances are often deceiving, from *both* ends of the spectrum. It's completely anecdotal and I don't mean to imply any statistical significance, but for all the hole-in-the-wall eating I've done, both here and abroad, I've only had severe food poisoning once... traced back to a clean, modern, trendy, dumbed-down, popular pseudo-Asian joint in one of the city's most affluent neighborhoods.

I guess I just feel like the joy of exploration and thrill of finding a great unknown place should be enough without having to sell it as Russian Roulette.

In any case, not trying to browbeat you guys, I hope it didn't come across that way, and I'm not really seeking an answer (though I appreciate the response).  Just wanted to raise the question, is all.

Regardless, love love LOVE that you're trying to push the idea of exploring unknown joints no matter how you do it.  Do keep that up, please.  We're in desperate need of it, and I'll be jumping in myself week after next.

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