SEARCY, Ark. – Searcy isn’t exactly a culinary hotspot. I come from Singapore, arguably the food capital of Southeast Asia. Searcy has a way to grow before it gets there. Even so, and to my great delight, this little town holds some pleasant surprises for an Asian college student looking to satisfy his cravings.
Maybe you’ve lived in the US all your life and you’re curious to try authentic Oriental flavors without breaking your bank account on a plane ticket. Or you may be like me, a fellow Asian in search of a taste of home. If that’s the case, punch these places into your phone and prepare for a treat.
These are my top three picks for the most authentic Asian restaurants in Searcy. They may not do it just like momma does, but they sure hit the spot. Chances are that you’ll find other Asians frequenting these places, so you know that it’s going to be good.
Get those chopsticks ready.
Whilma’s Filipino Restaurant
Why go for one kind of Asian cuisine when you can enjoy them all at once? That’s what Filipino food does best. According to Whilma Frogoso, owner and head chef of Whilma’s Filipino Restaurant, Filipino cuisine combines the best of every other Asian cuisine. Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Thai – you name it!
From the moment you step into the restaurant on 701 E Race Ave., you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped out of the US and into Asia. Thanks to the recent Small Business Revolution, Whilma’s received a major facelift while retaining what is arguably the most authentic Asian cuisine in the region. People drive in from as far as Florida to savor these exquisite tastes. And so should you.
Photo by John Lim. Pork Adobo from Whilma’s Filipino Restaurant.
The classic Filipino dish is the Pork Adobo. This rice-and-meat dish is cooked in a savory-salty sauce, essentially the bread and butter of Filipino cuisine. The chefs allow the food to cook for a longer period of time so the spices and herbs fully infuse the meat and the sauce. When the flavors explode in your mouth, you’ll find that it was worth every minute of the wait.
You may have heard the stereotype about Asians eating rice or noodles at every meal. While not every stereotype is true, this one certainly is, at least for me. Thankfully, good rice isn’t hard to find, but good noodles are more difficult to come by.
The best noodles in town come from Dora’s Express, which you can find on 1516 E Race St. They specialize in hibachi grill foods prepared from a food truck, which is unexpectedly good. I sometimes fantasize about getting nothing but several orders of noodles just to plunge my chopsticks in and slurp down that savory goodness. That said, their rice is delicious in its own right. You don’t even need Yum-Yum sauce to go with them – which, by the way, isn’t actually an Asian thing. Keep it authentic people.
Photo by John Lim. Dora’s Express.
While it’s hard to go wrong with anything here, I’ve fallen in love with the Hibachi Sukiyaki. This is a steak grilled with vegetables in a sauce that’s both savory and spicy. In other dishes, the meat is cooked separately from the vegetables, but here the flavor of one enhances the other. As for the spicy aspect, it’s not really quality Asian food without a good kick to it. For those with milder taste buds, you can ask them to tone it down so you can savor it without your mouth catching fire.
For the cash-strapped college student, there’s more good news. Dora’s is one of the cheaper options in town, and they’ll throw in another 10 percent discount if you show them your student ID. Best of all, you get a decent portion for what you pay. And if you can’t finish it in one sitting, you’ll be glad to have it in your fridge for leftover night.
Hubilai Mongolian Stir Fry
All-you-can-eat Asian grills aren’t exactly rare. But when I found out that Hubilai Mongolian Stir Fry had a “Singapore sauce,” I was sold. I was skeptical at first, but its authenticity took me by surprise.
Tucked away on 130 S Poplar St., hidden behind no less than Taco Bell, chances are you won’t find it unless you’re looking for it. It’s a treasure reserved for the enlightened, so I advise you to stake your claim as soon as you can.
For those unfamiliar with this kind of restaurant, it’s all-you-can-eat with a catch. You can grab as many vegetables, rice, noodles, and meat as you want, so long as you can fit it on a single bowl. Every time I go (which is a lot), it’s almost like a game that tests my stacking, balancing, and strategic planning skills all in one. Having to work for your dinner only makes it even more tasteful when you enjoy it later.
Photo by John Lim. Hubilai Mongolian Stir Fry.
When you’ve successfully piled up everything you can, it’s the sauces that make it a meal to remember. You can mix and match them in any way you like, and if you’re overwhelmed by all the choices, the staff here have some great tips for what works best for you. If you want a distinctly Asian flavor, I shamelessly recommend my combination: Singaporean sauce (in my opinion, the perfect blend of salty, savory, and spicy), hot pepper oil (to maximize that spicy satisfaction) and garlic oil (to enhance basically everything). Prepare to taste heaven.