We are not rats in a maze in search of cheese, right? And yet I feel like a dumb rat in a learning experiment whenever I visit the maze called West Midtown. I drive and I walk in seemingly arbitrary patterns until I stumble upon the restaurant, the cheese, that I’m looking for. The difference between me and the rat is that the rat eventually learns to map the maze. I, on the other hand never learn, because the maze is forever changing.
Among the most welcome new restaurants in West Midtown’s maze is Food Terminal, which serves Malaysian cuisine. Happily, it is conspicuously located in the front of the Brickworks development on Marietta Street, thus requiring little effort to find it. Look for soaring glass windows that give interior views of a loft-like space with lots of gray, yellow, and lime-green accents. A parking deck is easy to access directly next to the restaurant, but finding a supposedly free, eligible space requires the usual travel through mazes. Yes, it’s worth it.
This is the second location of Food Terminal. The original, larger, and always crowded restaurant is on Buford Highway. (I reviewed it in 2017.) The owners, Amy Wong, and Howard Ewe, also operate multiple locations of Top Spice, Sweet Hut, and Mamak, so they are skillful, to say the least. Malaysian cuisine is an ages-old hybrid of cooking throughout Asia. Besides traditional Malaysian cuisine, both Food Terminals also serve more explicitly Thai, Indian, and Chinese dishes, plus some playful improvs. Think “Asian food hall,” although it’s not really a food hall. If that’s not complicated enough, most people find perusal of the menu at both restaurants overwhelming. There are many pages – 50 at the original – of photographs of dishes you’ve never seen before. I usually suggest that newcomers first review the check-list that you hand to the server to indicate your choices. If something looks interesting on the list, look up the photo for a better sense of ingredients and appearance.
During a recent visit to the new location, I found the food as good as the original’s (which itself improved a great deal after its opening months). Food Terminal’s best-seller, according to our server, is the “Grandma Wonton BBQ T Noodle.” It’s a Cantonese-style bowl of skinny noodles in a light soy-based sauce topped with glazed slices of barbecued pork. The bowl also holds three fried wontons stuffed with pork and shrimp; some crunchy bok choy, and a (unfortunately overcooked) fried egg. You get the sweet, the acidic, the crunch, and the creamy all in one bowl. I also like the similarly concocted beef rendang, a long-cooked stew served over rice cooked in coconut milk, garnished with pickled vegetables, fish crackers, peanuts, and another overcooked egg.
One dish I always like to have on the table at Food Terminal is the slightly cooked watercress tossed in a black-bean sauce. It’s an excellent choice to clear the palate as you move from one dish to another. Among the shareable app-sized others, I also like the creamy Thai eggplant, served with a chili sauce and ground chicken. I didn’t order it this visit, but I also love the restaurant’s oily bone-marrow soup with big chunks of pork belly. It’s one of ten soups available. The okra with sambal is also especially tasty. These are all examples of the more “unchallenging” dishes and, I should add, none of them are remotely spicy, despite the menu’s claim.
In all honesty, unless you’re planning to party, you might want to visit the more exotic original location on Buford Highway. You won’t feel like a rat in a maze, although the walk across the gigantic parking lot might leave you winded.
Cliff Bostock is a longtime Atlanta restaurant critic and former psychotherapist turned life coach; firstname.lastname@example.org.