The Lunar New Year – an important Asian holiday – happened earlier this month, marking the remainder of 2022 as ‘the Year of the Tiger.’ Although Chinese New Year may be the most well-known version of this celebration, each Asian country has its own customs and traditions. West Haven is fortunate to have several of these countries represented in our diverse restaurant scene.
Sri Thai Rachena Netsuwan and her brother Paul are co-owners of this Thai gem located at 315 York Street. They have lived in West Haven for over ten years. They grew up together in Bangkok, a cosmopolitan, coastal city that is bustling like New York, but, like Connecticut, has a great deal of maritime influence.
“Our mother was a great cook, and she remains our biggest inspiration,” Rachena says. She often involved them not only in food preparation but in her process of deciding what to select at the local markets. The family’s meals could be elaborate at times .
Carefully sourcing fresh and authentic ingredients, the siblings remember their roots in delicacies like Yentafo, a savory rice noodle dish in tomato broth with shrimp, crispy wonton, and bean sprouts. They also serve up classics like Pad Thai, Drunken Noodle, Chicken Satay served with tangy peanut dipping sauce, and the ever-popular fried banana with ice cream.
Among the restaurant’s most frequent customers have been members of the West Haven Police Department. Based just across the street, some officers have grown into Sri Thai’s biggest fans. “They have been checking up on us, grabbing lunch and saying hello. They want to make sure we will stay open because they love our food,” Rachena says with pride.
Da.Wa.The phrase, in Korean, is a casual way to say “Come in.” As such is meant to convey a warm welcome to the West Haven community. The restaurant was opened three years ago by Chef Jeong, who has worked in New York City kitchens for over 20 years. Most days, the dining room right off of I-95 at the Sawmill Road exit is bustling, an indication that, so far, the welcome has been mutual.
Online reviews of the place average 4.6 stars: “This was my first time having Korean food in Connecticut. I usually go to Ktown in NYC. Great service, and portions were large, prices reasonable.” “Seafood pancake was crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside with plenty of seafood! The place was bright and comfy.” Another diner raves, “My friend and I have been CRAVING some amazing Korean food and we’ve been to multiple restaurants but DAWA was by far the best decision ever!…We felt welcomed and well-taken care of.”
If you are not sure what to order, the wait staff will be glad to give recommendations. The appetizer menu is the restaurant’s strongest set of selections, featuring dishes like Tteok Bokki (pronounced Tok-Bocky), explained by a teacher from Milford as “comfort food, what a student might want to eat while studying for exams.” Picture round and chewy rice cakes simmered in a spicy red pepper sauce. Kimchi or scallion crispy fried pancakes are popular, and these usually come with a variety of toppings (order the large size if you want to make a meal out of appetizers, or the small size if you are also ordering an entree.) To please whole families and show off their eclectic range, DaWa also offers Korean BBQ, a variety of soups, and traditional Japanese sushi.
Golden Dragon 778 Boston Post Rd. (203) 931-8465 Though there is no dine-in or delivery, this place attracts people from as far away as West Haven’s West Shore and even Hamden to its Allingtown location because of its tasty food and friendly service. While many Westies have not yet tried this reliably good source of Chinese cuisine, others call it the best around. It is harder for the tidy place to go unnoticed this time of year, however, with all of the bright red New Year decorations.
The owner, Jimmy, grew up in West Haven, and graduated from West Haven High School around 2000. He has an easy-going manner with the kids who find their way over after class, since the restaurant is just down the street from ESUMS and the University of New Haven. It is also not far from Carrigan Middle School, and shares clientele with the West Haven Academy of Karate, situated in the same shopping strip.
At Golden Dragon, you will find classic Chinese-American favorites like Sesame Chicken and Beef with Broccoli, with a tasty Pork Fried Rice offered on the side. A great dish to try is Dragon and Phoenix, which combines the ever-popular General Tso’s filling one half of the container (chicken or tofu, as you prefer), and steamed shrimp with broccoli in the other. The Lo Mein is also good. Most options are pictured above the counter, but a few are handwritten and tacked to the walls, so the menu is ever-evolving.