Red Chili a ‘hot’ place on Elk Avenue

Published 8:19 am Friday, May 5, 2017

If you’re looking for a bit of heat in your food and some “people” warmth, you might try the Red Chili in downtown Elizabethton. Minae Ward and her staff dish up both at the Korean style restaurant.

Among the items on the menu are Be-Bim-Bob, which is a bed of seasoned rice served in a hot stone bowl with your choice of either beef, chicken, tofu or pork and seasoned vegetables. A lightly pan-fried egg is optional, which Minae explained is the traditional way to serve this Korean dish.

“You must stir all the ingredients together for maximum flavor,” said Minae, who opened her restaurant 10 years ago at the urging of Brian Higgs, who formerly operated the Bonnie Kate Cafe.

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Although her restaurant is small, offering only limited seating, Minae says it is good for her. “We have steady business throughout the week, with Friday and Saturday being our biggest days. The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. We serve dinner Friday from 3:30 to 9:30 p.m. and we prefer reservations after 6:30 p.m.,” she said. Friday dinner is one of the restaurant’s busiest times.

“Many of our customers have been coming for long time, some since we opened,” said Minae, a native of South Korea. Married to Roger Ward, an East Tennessean, Minae, when young traveled to and settled in San Diego, Calif., with her family. That is where she met her husband.

The Red Chili is her first business venture, although she worked in the family restaurant business in San Diego. Minae does all the cooking at the Red Chili, confessing that all her secrets to tasty food come from her mother, who is an “excellent cook, the best.”

In addition to Be-Bim-Bob, other popular dishes on the menu include Cracklin Rice and Chipotle Chicken. Josh Dorsey, who lives in Bristol and works at the VA Hospital in Johnson City, visits the Red Chili at least once a week. Chipotle Chicken is his favorite. “It’s worth the drive over here,” said Dorsey.

Other favorite entrees is Spicy Pork, Red Chicken, Korean Yellow Curry Chicken and a Lettuce Wrap.

“A favorite of many customers is the Kickin Chicken, which is stir-fry vegetables and chicken served on a bed of noodles which have been caramelized in an iron skillet. It is served with the house sauce,” said Nichole Williams, waitress and cashier.

The menu also contains a variety of appetizers and soups, among them Mondu soup, which Nichole described as “dumplings in the best broth on the planet.”

Minae says most of her customers are regulars. “Some come form Johnson City and Bristol, and I have many from Elizabethton,” she said.

In addition to doing all the cooking, Minae does all the shopping. “All of our vegetables are bought fresh daily as are the meats. All of the food is prepared when ordered, even to the sauce. That is why when people ask for extra sauce, we don’t have any, because we don’t make it make it ahead of time nor do we make extra,” she explained.

Many of the menu dishes contain Korean Red Hot Peppers or scorpion peppers, which provide the hea to the food t as well as some flavor. “When I was growing up, I acquired a taste for spices. They give foods a flavor. Most of our sauces are teriyaki based,” Minae said.

Nichole said when taking orders she usually asks customers to rate on a scale one to ten how spicy or hot they want their food. Also employed at the restaurant is Chong Smith, a long-time friend of Minae’s who works in the kitchen along side Minae.

“I love it here on Elk Avenue and in Elizabethton. The people are very friendly. They are country folks. Many are business folks, professionals. They are Stoney Creek people, Roan Mountain people. I like them all,” said Minae.

Minae says her first venture into business has been very good. “It has been good experience for me, considering I never thought I would ever own my own business,”she said.