Arario Midtown has been serving up Korean and fusion dishes in Reno’s Midtown district since 2017. Diners will enjoy a variety of banchan alongside classic Korean entrées, small plates that unhinge culinary expectations and wonderful fusion offerings that include burgers, pasta and even cheese steak.
Despite a Korean Focus, Arario Has Tendrils in Everything That Tastes Good
While researching Arario, I stumbled across Michael Tragash’s Yelp review. In case anyone is unfamiliar, Tragash is our local Community Manager at Yelp. He does a ton for our local food scene, so if you see him, give him a high five! Within his review, I read that T.J. and Hani Cho own and operate Arario. Hani is the Executive Chef at the restaurant, and she graduated culinary school in Korea with an emphasis on Korean imperial cuisine.
Some restaurants dabble in fusion dishes, but Arario pushes the boundaries of the concept with stunning success. With dishes such as kimchee fries, a Galbi burger, a Seoul Cheese Steak Sandwich and beef bulgogi pasta, Chef Hani covers a lot of culinary ground.
The seafood game at the restaurant is also on point with offerings that include poke, crab tofu, whole squid salad, miso soy glazed fish, a seafood bibimbap, a clam stew and much more.
I love that the chef not only fuses cuisines from different parts of the world, but also street food, pub food and high cuisine.
A Lunch That Really Should Have Been Shared
I started my lunch with the Gambas Al Ajillo for $12.
Gambas Al Ajillo is a garlic shrimp dish originally from Spain. Arario’s rendition consists of large shrimp sitting amidst garlic infused EVOO, shredded scallions, slices of fried garlic and some chili flakes. Wonderfully toasted kalamata olive bread accompanies the dish. The shrimp were cooked just right, and the fried garlic and infused oil were fantastic. The salty olives in the toasted bread brought the dish together well.
Next up was the Fire Cracker for $9. This dish is composed of fried chicken and tater tots topped with melted mozzarella, ghost pepper jack cheese and a secret, house chili sauce. I previously read about this dish as described by fellow food reviewer and all-around badass, Todd South of the Reno News & Review. He ate the dish around January of 2018, and he described it as possibly the hottest dish in all of Reno. He concluded his description by saying, “I double dog dare you to try it.”
I enjoy food with heat that reaches Threat Level Midnight, so I accepted the challenge. My server, Ted Kim, warned me of the fire ahead. Because perceived heat is so subjective, I asked him if he thought it was hotter than a habanero, and he said yes. After this additional description, admittedly, I was two-parts excited and one-part anxious. My first bite of the dish was crunchy, melty, sweet, salty and some heat. Nothing about the heat right out the gate raised any eyebrows, but the dish was remarkably flavorful and well put together. Cheese and tots are excellent accompaniments to fried chicken and chili sauce.
I think after T.J. noticed that I wasn’t sweating while eating the Fire Cracker, he explained that he and his wife decided to tone down the heat in the dish by as much as 60% because so many diners failed to tolerate the flames. Not long after, he returned to my table with a metal ramekin filled with chili sauce 2.0. I’m so glad he hooked me up with a higher heat sauce. He shared with me the wide variety of chilies that make up the sauce but asked that I keep it a secret. If it was my sauce, I’d guard it with lock and key as well. It’s seriously tasty! A certain orange chili imparts a wonderful sweetness that’s difficult to forget.
I selected the Tofu Stew with Seafood for $13 as my entrée. The stew included onion, mushroom, zucchini, soft tofu, scallions and a poached egg. The seafood additions included clams, mussels and small crab legs and claws. A bowl of white rice and four dishes of banchan (more on that later) accompanied the stew. According to the menu, the broth was beef-based, but the seafood came in with the assist in an outstanding way. The variety of textures from the veggies, egg, tofu and seafood were so pleasing. I love that the chef keeps the tofu in large chunks.
I asked Ted how I should eat the crab meat, and he advised that it’s common to deshell the crab in your mouth and then spit out the shell. I tried and failed at that technique, so I resorted to the ‘hand-crack and suck’ method. Some might find this method tedious, but the flavor that the shells impart is undeniable. Fans of gumbo and cioppino will find a lot to love in this dish.
A Final Word on Banchan
Banchan are the small, often vegetable-centric side dishes that accompany Korean entrées and Korean BBQ. The dishes are often complimentary, bottomless and meant to be shared.
Today’s offerings included black beans, potato salad, salted zucchini and kimchee.
The black beans are typically prepared with soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and then topped with toasted sesame seeds. I’m unsure if this method is used at Arario. The beans are dense, sweet and have an almost coffee-like flavor to them. Arario’s version was delicious.
Next was the potato salad. Ted explained that the chef uses a combination of sweet potatoes, non-sweet potatoes (not sure about the variety) and mayo. The salad was delicate, mild and enjoyable.
Next was the salted zucchini. I didn’t expect to be, but I was totally taken with this one. The squash was so juicy, and, well, squashy. It was almost like eating essence of pumpkin or something. I loved it.
The final banchan dish and the showstopper was none other than the kimchee. Ted explained that kimchee has thousands of years of history behind it, and regional variations abound. He said just about every Korean spot has a distinct variation of kimchee. The spicy, fermented cabbage dish often includes fish sauce, salt, sugar, flour and various chilies. Some include salted shrimp and / or anchovy sauce. Just like the recipe for the chili sauce that tops the Fire Cracker, Arario’s exact kimchee recipe is closely guarded. My mouth is watering as I think about the funky, complex, crunchy majesty.
My meal receipt said, “Arario means Great Heavenly Energy.” The restaurant location, beautiful décor, wonderful food and friendly service endowed me with a satisfied belly and a positive energy that I carried with me long after the meal. T.J., Hani and Ted made me feel so welcome, and I can’t wait to return.
Arario Midtown’s Details
Visit Arario Korean Fusion at 777 S. Center St., Suite 200, Reno, NV 89501. Enter the restaurant via the staircase on Cheney St. Call in your reservation at 775-870-8202. They are open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., open Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and open on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. They are closed the 2nd and 4th Monday of every month. Visit them online at arariomidtown.com.
Kyle Young is a local freelance writer. He offers content writing, blog posts, copywriting, and editing services. His current writing foci are food, cooking, and the oddities native to Reno, Sparks, and Tahoe. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor’s degree in English writing. He gained some food chops while working as a dishwasher, line-cook, and food-truck operator. He learned quality control, imports/exports, and logistics at a local spice and seasoning manufacturer. When not hustling as a writer, he plays Scrabble, cooks, wrangles three pups, and attends live music/comedy with his wife.