Words: Mark Aquino | @bcuzevo
Images: Mark Enriquez | @1llest
T’was a cold winter day. Its lights shimmering, inviting. It turns out this wasn’t a secret anymore as crowds of people walk in through the door. As we walked in, our senses were greeted with the aromas of savory edibles. In a state of confusion, we paused for a bit to decide what to eat. We’ve been waiting for this place to open for a while now. Familiar location with familiar faces greet us. It’s finally open. That new spot, the place to be, the hangout place, The Block.
Featuring 6 different food outlets, it’s really hard to experience what this place offers in just one day.
Luckily, we were able to speak with some of the masterminds behind some of the food outlets here – to get an insight about where the concept and inspiration came from.
ST: Joey, where did your inspiration come from? Tell us your roots.
Joey: Growing up in the city of Bangkok, I was always fond of the street food. If you are a local or have ever visited Thailand, you would know that the best tasting foods aren’t from fancy restaurants but from small carts and little market vendors all throughout the city. Not in a million years did I think that I would ever open up my very own restaurant to be honest. You would mainly find me in the shop wrenching on cars most of the time. I worked on them so much that my passion had actually fallen in to the category of just being a job. Besides cars, most of my friends and family know that my escape and other hobby that I do in my spare time is cooking. My dad always cooked for me growing up and it was delicious. He passed down several recipes that were mostly from my grandmother to me. I started cooking at a young age because he always wanted me to be able to take care of myself in the future. Me and my girlfriend Sue, who went to culinary school for several years, always went to the local markets at least 5 times a week and cooked after work and during weekends for the thrill of it. I would always make Thai dishes that I missed eating back home that is hard to find in local Thai restaurants. We started to try different cooking methods with a mix of my grandmother’s home style recipes until we got it right where we wanted it. Being in the kitchen always took a lot of weight off my shoulders and I found it very relaxing. That’s when I started to think about opening up a small food joint. I knew opening up a small restaurant wouldn’t be easy by all means but it would be worth a try. Everyone wants to open up a restaurant or business but doesn’t really know what that entails. If you think you’re going to make it within a few days, you’re in the wrong business. When people order food, they see a dish. They don’t see all the hard work, prep, and love that goes in to that dish before serving. When you run a restaurant, you have to sacrifice everything. You can say goodbye to vacations, your social life, and be prepared to work 14-17 hr shifts, Monday thru Sunday. With that being said, I was willing to give up all my time and give it my all for my future and my family. I was very fortunate to get pointed to the right direction with the help of great friends and family that own Pasara Thai and Thai Pilin. I would like to thank everyone that has contributed and has been supportive of my vision since day one. I will continue to provide the best to all my customers, friends, and family and I appreciate all the love that people showed.
ST:Which type of customers are you targeting?
Joey: I’m trying to target everybody. Especially the Thai community. I try my best to make it as authentic as I can so everyone can enjoy the taste of true Thai food that isn’t Americanized or out of a can of paste. Everything is made fresh daily with ingredients from Thailand and no substitutes.
ST: What type of cuisines do you offer?
Joey: My top sellers right now are the Boat noodle soup (Guey Tiew Rua), Slow cooked beef noodle soup (Guey Tiew Nua Toon) and Braised pork over rice (Kao Ka Moo). I also have Tom Yum Seafood, Chicken Curry and a few more items on the menu but I will be expanding with more food items on my grand opening.
ST: Items on the menu to look out for?
Joey: If you’re a big noodle soup person, you can’t go wrong with the boat noodle soup. It is full of flavor. People always ask me if it is like Vietnamese pho. Anyone who has tried boat noodle soup will tell you it has all the flavors that will open up all your taste buds. It is Thai so my food emphasizes on 5 flavors… Sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy. I am currently focusing on my extended menu that will come on my grand opening so be on a lookout. I will have papaya salad, BBQ skewers on sticks (*chicken, pork, meatballs, and seafood), sticky rice, fish cakes, beef jerky, issan sausages, Lad Na, Pad Thai, and many more street food dishes.
Finally, we had a chance for a quick chat with the founder of all this, Arturo Mei.
ST: Where did this concept come from?
Arturo: Idea came from traveling Asia where I saw lots street food vendors all together selling food with endless food options. The idea of The Block was to bring everyone together – like a block party to enjoy good food and togetherness with the community. Also, to help new start-ups like Balo Kitchen, Thai Roots, Munch and Snocream succeed in opening a restaurant/start-up since most restaurant businesses fail. We try to help them achieve a higher success rate.
ST: What customers are you targeting?
Arturo: Target customers is everyone that loves good food and hanging out.
ST: What type of cuisines do you offer and plan to offer?
Arturo: We offer asian street food, Hawaiian poke, Taiwanese dessert, boba, Thai food, Ice Cream donut and many more to come. We are going to test out a lot different things here at The Block. We are trying to create and bring in new types of foods and dessert that is currently not available around the area.
Feeling hungry yet? Head out to The Block located at 4221 John Marr Dr., Annandale, VA.
Check back regularly as their menus are dynamic and they always have something new to try. Sisig over rice at Balo Kitchen *hint hint*. Don’t forget, this food hall also comes with a full bar just in case you are a little parched. The talented bartenders can whip up something for you while you eat your hearty meal. Check out their happy hour specials as well.
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