East Rising

Jackson Hole’s Asian dining options go beyond the usual. 

By Scott Eren

Sweet Cheeks Meats often blurs the lines between American barbeque and traditional Asian fare. Photo by Ryan Dorgan

“IT SEEMS THAT restaurants open here in waves. First all the barbecue places opened within a year of each other. [Then, last spring/summer] we went through a wave of cool Asian places opening up.” 

So says Nick Phillips, owner of Sweet Cheeks Meats, a butcher shop and eatery on Scott Lane in Jackson. He’s not wrong. Take a stroll around downtown and you may first notice the abundance of barbeque restaurants. You’ll also find plenty of Asian dining options. These include relatively recently opened restaurants that exceed what you might expect to find in a small, landlocked town. These new Asian restaurants suggest that Jackson Hole diners now embrace food with a more precise sense of place.

Suda, a Japanese gastro pub, shines with a variety of noodle, fried, and grilled dishes, all perfect for sharing. The Phoenix and the Dragon serves rarely seen Malaysian and Filipino dishes filtered through a Hawaiian lens. Everest Momo Shack’s menu includes Nepali, Tibetan, and Indian dishes. And then there’s Phillips’s Sweet Cheeks Meats, which, despite its very American name, keeps diners on their toes with specials that range from hearty Vietnamese sandwiches to Hong Kong-style stuffed baos. (Sweet Cheeks also dishes the best dumplings in town.)

SUDA’s kimchi tantan ramen. Photo by Greg Von Doersten

Suda

WHILE THE OTHER restaurants mentioned in this article tend to cross borders to incorporate food from multiple Asian countries, Suda focuses on just one: Japan. Its menu is styled after Japan’s many izakayas, a type of bar-restaurant that serves food intended to be eaten with beer or sake. Many izakayas have limited menus—maybe even just one dish—but Suda’s menu includes several different Japanese offerings, including grilled yakimono dishes, fried katsu-style foods, ramens, and raw sashimi items.

Because of meticulous attention to detail, Suda’s menu does not fall victim to its breadth. Fried foods like plump scallops and pork cutlet (an izakaya classic) arrive on a wire rack, keeping them light and crisp with no soggy spots. Kushiyaki, skewers of different foods cooked over oak binchotan charcoal imported from Wakayama, are always perfectly cooked. Options include shishito peppers, chicken liver, bacon-wrapped dates, or foie gras. Sashimi offerings are impressively fresh for a town situated a time zone away from the ocean. This is largely thanks to the owners’ years of experience sourcing fish for sushi at Sudachi, Suda’s older sister restaurant on the West Bank. 

The main difference between Suda and an izakaya in Japan is the design. Many izakaya in Japan are cozy, with diners packed in tightly together under low ceilings. Suda is open and airy with vaulted ceilings, a large bar, and a dining room that meanders over multiple levels. Open Monday through Saturday
5 to 9 p.m., 140 N. Cache St. Suite B, 307/201-1616, sudajh.com

These new Asian restaurants suggest that Jackson Hole diners now embrace food with a more precise sense of place.

Eric and Zarina Sakai serve Malaysian and Filipino dishes filtered through a Hawaiian lens. Photo by Ryan Dorgan

The Phoenix and the Dragon

AN INSTANT INSTAGRAM star thanks to its colorful and fun space—wallpaper featuring a whimsical print with baboons, birds, and flowers—Phoenix and the Dragon is more than pretty pictures. It is one of the friendliest and most welcoming restaurants in town. Much of this comes from co-owner Zarina Sakai, who is almost always the first face to great you, beaming from behind the bar. She and husband Eric are omnipresent and give this restaurant the feel of a mom-and-pop spot.

The 30-something couple cooks the food they grew up with and the food they like to eat themselves. That means poke bowls from Eric’s time in Hawaii and the classic Filipino chicken and rice dish inasal na Manok that Zarina grew up on. The Sakais serve their version of the latter with delicate-yet-rich garlic fried rice topped with chicken marinated in lemongrass and spices. The dish is gorgeously colorful, with brick-red chicken on top of purple cabbage, golden carrots, and green onions. Because Eric and Zarina personally tend towards eating gluten- and lactose-free, it also means Phoenix and the Dragon is the best bet in town to accommodate groups that have diners with different allergies and aversions. (Plenty of dishes are meat-free, too.) 

Even diners without a dairy intolerance love the restaurant’s signature dessert: lactose-free soft serve ice cream. As one who succumbed to lactose intolerance about a decade ago, I nearly cried with joy when I was able to again enjoy soft serve. Phoenix and the Dragon uses a coconut-based mix that has an amazing creamy texture. Topping options are modern: Japanese matcha powder, extra virgin olive oil, or chocolate-tahini sauce. Open 11:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Monday through Friday for lunch; Dinner 5 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; closed Sunday, 145 N. Glenwood St., 307/200-6436, phoenixdragonjh.com

At Everest Momo Shack, Rita Sherpa cooks traditional Nepalese dumplings, among other Indian/Nepalese dishes. Photo by Ryan Dorgan

Everest Momo Shack

WHEN SANGE AND Rita Sherpa opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant on West Pearl Avenue in early 2019 the couple and their food were already established in the valley. The Sherpas and their Everest Momo Shack booth had been staples at local concerts, farmers markets, and fairs for more than a decade. They’d also had previous brick-and-mortar locations in Jackson and in Victor, Idaho.

The restaurant’s name comes from its signature dish,
momos, the traditional thick-skinned dumplings served throughout the northern Indian and Nepalese Himalaya. They are either steamed or pan- or deep-fried and stuffed with minced meat or veggies. Everest Momo Shack nods to its location in Wyoming by doing bison-stuffed momos. The Chili Momos are deep-fried dumplings topped with peppers, onions, and chili sauce. Not in the mood for dumplings? Momo Shack also offers Indian and Nepali style curries like chicken tikka masala and saag paneer. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner 5 to 9:30 p.m., 245 W. Pearl Ave., 307/201-1674, no website

Sweet Cheeks Meats

SWEET CHEEKS MEATS is a butcher shop that does double duty as one of town’s most inventive and creative eateries. (Because it has just five seats and a standing-only counter, most people get their food to go.) Sweet Cheeks’ prepared foods started out with grab-and-go items for breakfast and lunch that quickly became locals’ favorites. Last winter, owner Nick Phillips brought on chef Brad Ledo and the menu options grew.

While the grab-and-go breakfast remains the same, Sweet Cheeks expanded lunch options to sandwiches that change daily and might include the best bahn mi in town. (Bahn mi is a classic Vietnamese sandwich that typically includes a combination of roast meat and liver pâté with pickled radishes, jalapeños, and cilantro.) It also has themed happy hours, one of which is “Asian Apres.” During this, diners choose among different types of dumplings, egg rolls, and baos with meaty fillings of local beef or pork. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a day when Phillips and Ledo blur the lines between American barbeque and Asian fare, like house-smoked brisket stuffed inside a dumpling. “I’m happy to serve food I want to eat,” Phillips says. “We want to keep it interesting for us and for our customers. If that means pushing boundaries on flavors and spice, we’ll do it.” Open 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday, 185 Scott Ln., 307/734-6328, sweetcheeksmeats.com JH

| Posted in JH Living