Asian fusion cuisine continues to blossom in Mansfield, and Char’d is the newest place to find it. Flavors from Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, and Japan comingle in an atmosphere of jovial, family ownership.
Opened March 16 in a previously unoccupied space in a strip center dominated by a Life Time Fitness center, Char’d: Southeast Asian Kitchen offers the ultra-efficiency of fast-casual restaurants, yet it is not the predictable Chinese- or Mexican-themed takeout joint. The ever-smiling counter staff skillfully assembles tailor-made bowls combining elements of Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, and Japanese cooking.
The vibe: The fusion aspect of Char’d extends to its ambiance, which manages the neat trick of a fast-casual setting where someone can receive a to-go order in less than five minutes, or settle in with friends or a laptop and, Starbucks-style, while away an entire afternoon, pausing for bites of an Asian-inspired meal.
The overall look of Char’d — high-gloss surfaces, a 25-foot-high ceiling exposing industrial-sized pipes and air conditioning vents, LED Edison pendant light fixtures, all hanging over communal tables — is of a trendy space. It’s designed to serve a local family of four, or fitness fanatics who drift over from the nearby gym.
The whimsy of Char’d’s aesthetic is summed up by a huge wall mural populated by Sharpie-drawn, Asian-inspired pandas, dragons, and monkeys — all springing from the artistic minds of three (of the four) Doan brothers, each of whom has played a critical part in Char’d’s operation. “We wanted to put something there — I’d call it doodle art — that would make us stand out,” says Dominic Doan, a Char’d manager.
The food: Char’d’s easy-to-navigate menu lays out four signature bowls, ranging from Vietnamese grilled pork to a poke bowl featuring sashimi-quality tuna and salmon, and has the option of a build-your-own bowl from a base of various kinds of rice, before adding either steak (barbecued Korean-style), pork (often marinated in lemon grass, a common Vietnamese touch), chicken (say in the Thai style of red curry), tofu, (rendered less bland thanks to both pepper and lemon grass), tuna, or salmon.
Available veggies included corn and grilled onions, Korean kimchi, and Napa cabbage, with toppings ranging from crispy shallots to roasted peanuts. Rounding out the dishes are eight sauces from familiar fish and peanut, to the buzzing heat of Thai red curry, gochujang (a sweet-savory Korean sauce), or a sesame-flavored dressing.
My southeast Asian gustatory itinerary began with the bao steamed buns ($4.95). Springy crescents of dough revealed an interior of, per my order, minced chicken and beef. Tucked inside were crispy shards of spinach and cilantro. The buns were ornamented with slightly fiery Sriracha mayonnaise, playfully called a “firecracker sauce.”
Meanwhile, the spring rolls ($4.95) were 3-inch-long, rice-paper wrapped cylinders, packed with crunchy romaine, rice noodles, coins of cucumber, and the tangy Vietnamese banh mi street food condiments of pickled daikon radish and carrots, all perking up my ordered proteins of chicken and beef.
The Vietnamese grilled pork bowl ($10.45) was built on a base of brown rice, supporting a mound of nicely grilled pork nubbins. All but concealing this meaty interior were concentric layers of bean sprouts, mint, pickled carrot and daikon radish, cucumber slices and romaine lettuce, all dusted with peanuts. Hiding along the bowl’s edge was a small egg roll, filled with minced pork and carrots. It brought even more personality — and crunch — to the bowl.
Don’t underestimate the joys of washing down the meal with one of Char’d’s craft fruit drinks — particularly the bracing citrus hibiscus orange, shot through with genuine cane sugar, or the pineapple cream soda ($2.50), courtesy of the Stubborn Soda company.
Char’d also is only too happy to support the local craft beer industry, with a dozen Texan-made beers. Also whetting the whistle was Beso Del Sol sangria.
The prices: Fast-casual affordable. Appetizers ranged from $2.50 to $4.95; four signature bowls from $8.95 to $10.95; build-your-bowl proteins from $7.95 to $9.95. Homemade mango, green tea, and ube (sweet yam flavored) ice creams for $3.50.
The verdict: The words “handcrafted, healthy, fresh” hang like a commitment coat of arms above the serving line at Char’d. Those three simple words neatly sum up both the operating mantra and the allure of this unique addition to the Mansfield dining scene and, by extension, the south Fort Worth restaurant landscape.
First Bite: Char’d Southeast Asian Kitchen
- 1571 E. Debbie Lane, Suite 121
- Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday