Two years ago, Daniel Venegas and partner Jose More purchased the original downtown Wok Town from founder Shai Ben-Ami. Ben-Ami opened the Asian-fusion restaurant in 2009 and, before then, helped run other Miami joints such as Miss Yip and Domo Japones.
Since its debut, Wok Town has garnered a favorable reputation for its fast, fresh, and affordable stir-fries, fried rice, and noodle bowls. The restaurant proffers an Americanized amalgamation of Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Japanese cuisines.
When New Times first reviewed the spot in 2010, the newspaper noted that "everything about the place seems to suggest a starting-small, thinking-big strategy." Two weeks ago, this strategy took its course. The second Wok Town location opened in the former Meatball Joint space at 1570 Alton Road.
"Wok Town fits South Beach," Venegas says. "We are accessible to people who want vegetable bowls with chicken and pad thai noodles that aren't $18. Something like this was needed on the Beach."
South Beach's bill of fare mirrors the one in downtown, although health-oriented options were recently added to both menus. They include teriyaki salmon salad ($13.95) with mixed greens and sliced mangoes and cucumber, and bulgogi skirt steak salad ($12.95) with grilled skirt steak and kimchi.
But, according to Venegas, Wok Town's allure goes beyond the focus on nutrition. It is also about the restaurant's dissimilarity to other Chinese joints around.
"When you walk into Wok Town, you won't see a big red dragon or fish tank. You'll see modern décor. We chose to be more like an American version of Chinese food, and we are healthier than traditional Chinese restaurants," Venegas says. "We stay away from MSG and a lot of sauces. We use less oil, have more vegetarian and tofu options, and everything is made fresh in the moment. We make our own spring rolls and don't buy frozen ones from providers. In that sense, we set ourselves apart from the competition."
How Venegas defines these so-called traditional Chinese restaurants is questionable -- and these lines of comparison might be, too. (Though he did clarify by admitting that, in fact, he loves traditional Chinese restaurants.) Regardless, Wok Town's fast-fusion concept is succeeding. He reports deliveries are booming in South Beach. They also get very busy at night.
More locations are in the works. "Wok Town is the perfect concept to franchise, and the idea is to open multiple locations. There will be one more at the end of the year," he says.
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With their third store, the partners hope to target either the South Miami or Aventura market. For the time being, Wok Town will expand only within the county.
"We knew South Beach was for sure the second place to go. As for right now, we just know we are staying within Miami-Dade."
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.