The area around CSN’s Charleston campus is dotted with approachable, low-cost eateries designed to attract budget-conscious students, the majority of which are, naturally, chain restaurants. But tucked between McDonald’s and Tropical Smoothie Café is something vastly more interesting.
Moko Asian Bistro is a clean, contemporary space with eye-catching artwork and an inoffensive alternative soundtrack lingering in the background. It was originally known as Moko Tapas Bar, so the majority of its dishes are smaller servings intended for sharing, all demonstrating Asian flavors, with most having distinct Korean influence.
That cuisine is most evident in the favorite bibimbap ($9), where rice is served with marinated beef, spinach, bean sprouts and an over-easy egg. Mix it all together with the not-so-spicy gochujang, bright red Korean hot sauce, and the result is gooey gloriousness that can be washed down with the accompanying umami-rich miso soup. The only drawback? Moko doesn’t prepare the dish in a dolsot—an overheated stone bowl—so it’s missing the characteristic char imparted onto the bottom layer of rice. But even without that smokiness and crispy texture, it’s a worthy rendition.
There are two pork belly dishes, a 10-hour braised version ($10) and a 30-hour sous vide rendition ($12). Each has the same setup—sweet potato; mildly flavored, black raspberry-marinated sea salt; and an outstanding kimchi crepe so good it deserves its own spot on the menu—but the 30-hour take served in doenjang (soybean paste) is substantially more flavorful than the soy sauce-marinated 10-hour version.
The doenjang also contributes substantially to the beef tataki ($9). Thin slices of seared beef mingle with the paste, soy-sauce jelly and microgreens for a balance of funkiness and smoke. A special found only on a table topper, fiery noodles ($8) are flavorful but not particularly appropriate for the spice averse. Being of Irish descent, I have limited ability to process heat, but I found myself returning to the dry-rubbed ramen noodles over and over.
Not all the dishes charm. I had high hopes for the smoked mackerel pasta ($7), but any smokiness was obscured by vinegary kimchi. And the eggplant salad ($7) lacked any hint of grilled shishito even if the Moko dressing provided distinctive, sharp flavor.
Service is friendly, but the small staff can get overwhelmed. Regardless, Moko is a welcome addition to the local Asian culinary scene and provides a welcome oasis of creativity in an otherwise wasteland-ish area of fast food mediocrity.
Moko Asian Bistro 6350 W. Charleston Blvd. #120, 702-489-4995. Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5-11 p.m.