Besides beaches and terrific weather, a selling point that is routinely made about Myrtle Beach centers on the restaurants. The area boasts over 20,000 dining establishments, solidifying itself as one of the highest restaurants per capita cities in the country. In Myrtle Beach you will find many of the classy, big name, reputable, and trendy restaurants this planet has to offer. Cool enough.
However, once you get out of the tourist hotbeds you will find areas lined with eclectic, family owned restaurants. These personality-rich eateries are so numerous that if today I started a crusade to eat at a different one daily until I dined at them all I would be on my mission for at least ten years.
For me, my interest in small restaurant gems goes beyond just finding a solid place to find some good food. I am attracted to the real hidden, hole-in-the-wall locations. On my 20 minute commute to work each day I probably pass 100 different restaurants. Tucked away in dusty strip malls, old shopping centers, and intersection-placed stand alone buildings, I keep mental notes on what places I really want to try. With nothing major this weekend going on for me (except for the Super Bowl tonight!) I wanted to take the opportunity to try a couple of new places. For dinner on both Friday and Saturday night I treated my taste buds to some of Myrtle Beach’s most unknown eateries.
Friday Night – China Garden (3570 Northgate Dr.): Right next to my apartment sits an old, decaying shopping plaza. It is anchored by a Dollar General and has other businesses such as a Bingo hall, a shady barbershop, and a dive bar. It is not a place you want to be at night. But after work Friday evening I decided to stop in and order takeout at the Chinese restaurant located toward the end of the plaza right next door to the barbershop.
I walked in and couldn’t make out the greeting the nice young Asian girl at the counter gave me. I pointed to what I wanted on the menu after she gave me a confused look when I told her what I wanted (General Tso’s chicken). She told me the wait would be ten minutes. As I sat down and waited I saw a lot of people coming in and out picking up orders they had called in. Even though it was small and dingy inside, I knew this business was legit. I watched the cooks in clear view right behind the counter sweat as they labored to complete the numerous orders that were coming in. A couple of blue collar guys sat at a table to my right indulging in their food. True to her word, after about ten minutes the girl at the counter held up a plastic sack in my direction. I got up and took my dinner and went home.
My food was great. The chicken was perfect, the broccoli flavorful, and the white rice tasted like white rice. It tasted high quality to me. I paid $9 and the amount of food I got was more than enough to provide me with a very nice lunch the next day.
Saturday Night – Taqueria La Unica (4979 Socastee Blvd.): Last night Sidney and I agreed that we wanted Mexican for dinner. But instead of going to the Americanized and popular Nacho Hippo at Market Common, I wanted to try a place a little more ethnic. Daily, I drive down a street called Socastee Blvd. This road has numerous tiny Mexican restaurants lining both sides. I wanted to give one of these a shot. We literally drove into a few different mini strip malls and looked in the windows of some of these restaurants as we drove past. Each one looked a little sketch. We reached the point where we were at the final one on the stretch. Because we had already eliminated all of our previous options, we went inside Taqueria La Unica, quite possible the seediest one of them all.
This place seemed to have the same square footage and set up as China Garden only it was Mexican-themed instead of Chinese-themed. Mexican tunes blared from the juke box when we walked in. We sat at a table and a young girl, probably 17, came up to us. She provided us with menus and then stared at us. This was the start of an amazing feat she would pull off. Throughout the whole dining experience she never once uttered one word to us. I figured the blank stare meant she wanted our drink order. I told Sidney to go ahead with what she wanted and I followed.
Before she brought our drinks to us she brought out a basket of chips. Strangely, the basket only had about 14 cold chips in it. We never were offered more even when they were devoured about seven minutes later when our drinks finally came. Sidney received a Coke in a glass bottle that was actually imported from Mexico! We thought that was pretty cool.
Our food came out and I was presented with my shredded beef chimichangas. Sidney had flautas. Our plates were very well organized and came out on platters. The rice was completely white in nature which was a little different from what I am used to at a Mexican restaurant. For the most part the food was pretty good. It did taste a little more authentic than what I typically have. As we ate, the restaurant started to fill up. We were the only non-Hispanic people in the place, a good indicator that we did in fact enjoy true Mexican food. I went up and paid at the register and for the first time saw some emotion from our server. As I handed her the tip a huge smile spread across her face. I believe that was her way of saying thank you.
Although I wasn’t blown away with the chips, our service, or the food, Sidney and I both agreed that we had a fun experience eating and socializing in the atmosphere of Taqueria La Unica.
Next weekend my schedule is pretty open once again. Perhaps I will knock off a couple more small time restaurants I have been wanting to try. To all my Myrtle Beach friends, if you know of any “dive restaurants” that I might like, please let me know. Have a great Super Bowl Sunday. Don’t Blink.