Just days after landing in Dallas, YouTuber Mike Chen was already posing for selfies with his subscribers at local eateries. The face of Strictly Dumpling a, a YouTube channel that highlights a broad range of Asian cuisines and restaurants across the country, Chen boasts a following of more than 3 million subscribers. Now, he’s ready to turn their attention to what he sees as one of the country’s finest dining scenes, especially when it comes to Vietnamese, Korean, and barbecue.
Chen moved to Dallas two weeks ago from Seattle, which he used as a home base to travel the globe scoping out its finest night markets, all-you-can-eat buffets, and dishes like water buffalo barbecue in Saigon and ramen in Osaka. He set his sights on Texas back in 2019, when he teamed up with restaurateurs Jason Cho and Moul Kim to start working on Karne, a Korean steakhouse that’s expected to open in Houston later this year.
With Karne in the works, Chen had a big decision to make: should he move to Dallas or Houston? After exploring both cities, Dallas won out, thanks in large part to the region’s flourishing scene of Asian restaurants. “I know a lot of people here, and they rave about how this is becoming more and more of a food destination,” Chen tells Eater. “There’s a lot of modern takes on traditional dishes here, and I love everything about it. It’s interesting to try these dishes that are conceived in a way that builds on something that’s traditional and already amazing, and just adding to it.”
After settling down in a spot in the northerly suburb of Allen, Chen hit the ground running, visiting DFW dining establishments of all kinds. He was immediately impressed with the city’s Vietnamese dining scene, which he says is one of the best in the country. “I’ve had some of the best Vietnamese I’ve had anywhere here,” Chen says. “It’s superb, especially compared to a city like New York, which I feel is very mediocre when it comes to Vietnamese food.”
Equally compelling was the slew of Korean restaurants in both of Dallas’s Koreatowns, one in Carrollton and the other near I-35 and Royal Lane. At the former, Chen raved about the kimchi-topped patties at LA Burger and, at the latter, feasted on hearty ox bone soup at Doma Seolleongtang. Pretty much every day, Chen says that he finds out about a new restaurant that he wants to try. That was a little bit surprising at first, considering how far under the radar Dallas’s food scene often flies for people who aren’t familiar with the city.
“When people travel to a city to eat, they’re thinking of Los Angeles or New York or New Orleans, they don’t typically think of Dallas,” he says. “I could be wrong, but I certainly didn’t know much about it and I eat for a living. It wasn’t until I had a couple of friends who told me about what was here.”
Chen also has big plans to dig deep into the city’s smoked meats scene. A barbecue obsessive originally from the Midwest, Chen languished in cities like New York and Seattle, which in his mind just can’t compare to the smoked meats in Kansas City and Dallas. “I feel like I’m physically deprived of good barbecue,” Chen says. “The Rolls Royce proteins of barbecue are brisket and beef ribs, and nobody does that better than Texas.” As such, Strictly Dumpling viewers should expect plenty of barbecue videos on Chen’s channel in the coming months.
Eventually, Chen will have his own place in Dallas’s dining scene. After Karne Korean Steakhouse opens in Houston, the plan is to bring the restaurant to Dallas, and then other cities in Texas. A location hasn’t been selected yet, and work on the project likely won’t even begin until next year, but Chen is already excited. “I think it’s going to be a really cool restaurant, with innovative dishes made from the traditional components of Korean barbecue,” he says. “It’s going to have a nice upscale vibe, and really great meats.”
For now, he’s planning to take some time to settle into his new home city, and of course, eat. “I haven’t been here long, but so far the best, most fun thing to do here is eat,” Chen says. “There’s so much growing and flourishing here and the food scene is just ever-expanding, I really want to be a part of that.”