Chopstix Cafe

Chopstix Cafe

We’ve been going to Chopstix so long, we probably lack complete objectivity about it as a restaurant. It’s just one of the places we like to go when we want good vegetarian options at good prices. We’ve come to expect the slow, ultra-casual service as much as we expect the ever-changing view of the water out the big windows. It’s usually crowded with college students and locals during rush times, and almost empty the rest of the time. The menu hasn’t changed much over the years. Neither has the food. Neither have the giant fish sulking in their tanks. In fact, the only thing that changed was the family’s little kids, who went from baby carriers to homework at the big bar.

Even when they burst out of the mold and opened their Bistro location up on the NW side of town, it was pretty much the same thing but in a nicer facility. The menu is slightly different up at the Bistro, but the staff are easily recognized from the Cafe/13th St restaurant.

And then rumor hit that they were renovating the old place recently. What? Who allowed this to happen?

We had to swing by for a late lunch to see what had happened. It was possible they had obliterated all of our old memories along with the chintzy Chinese wall art and the rip-off of Hokusai’s Great Wave over the sushi bar. I would be happy if they replaced the wobbly cafe tables and chairs that sent my Thai iced tea cup skittering wildly at random moments.

All said and done, it’s the same old place, but with a gentle make-over. The dining areas have been reworked significantly for better flow. The deck out back has been given a little TLC and a bunch more tables for those nice days you’d like to sit and watch the water of Biven’s Arm. The giant bar that dominated the room to the right of the entrance has been reduced and sent far down to the left next to the new carry-out door and counter. That old bar space now has a fancy glass wall separating the restaurant from a chic WhiteBerry frozen yogurt franchise, finally providing a tempting dessert option.

The pan-Asian menu still hasn’t changed much, which is a good thing by the way. There are still a lot of vegetarian options, sushi, bento, and drinks. The gargantuan bowls they served everything in seemed to have shrunk just a bit. The same faces and same casual service attitude remain. And yes, there is still the random fly buzzing wearily against the windows to get out.

Chopstix Cafe
3500 SW 13th St
Gainesville FL 32608


M-T | 11AM-10PM
F-S | 11AM-11PM
Sunday | 12noon-8PM

Prices: Medium ($10-20 per meal)


Veggie Summer Rolls

Summer Rolls

The early bird gets the worm, right? Yuck. Worms?

Well, okay. Maybe if eating worms was like eating veggie summer rolls. I like to think birds feel about worms and caterpillars the way I feel about summer rolls. Sticky, awkward, crunchy, flavorful, and full of yummy god-knows-what. I mean, sometimes the rice vermicelli even looks like innards to me. Delicious innards that need to be dipped into peanut sauce.

Every restaurant makes their veggie summer rolls a little differently. You can usually be greeted by a fresh roll or two of sticky rice paper tucked neatly around finely shredded veggies like carrot, cabbage, celery, lettuce, or cucumbers (and tofu if you find the right place). If it’s not specifically veggie, you may be getting a roll with pork or shrimp, the traditional ‘other’ ingredients.

The real pleasure is in the fresh herbs that are wrapped into this squishy packet of fun. I’ve never been impressed with fresh mint in a savory dish, but it’s absolutely critical in the flavor balance with the cilantro, and basil–and the scallions, which stick out of the roll on one end like green antennae. And of course a peanut dipping sauce brings an earthiness to the fresh, herby roll.

I rarely ever pick up my summer roll and pretend it’s a caterpillar with green scallion antennae. I promise. I think The Man would stop taking me out in public if I did that too often.

We generally go to either if the Ichiban Sushi places here in town, or to either of the Chopstix (but they’re a little clunkier there). But the absolute best, if you’re ever in Tampa, is Trang Viet Cuisine.

Trang is a little hole-in-the-wall storefront in a sketchy neighborhood. The d├ęcor is reminiscent of low-budget prom. It hardly looks like much when you walk in. It’s one of those places that are so good, you only tell friends about so that it doesn’t get too crowded. They have a really good veggie selection, including a platter that had two each of four kinds of rolls (including summer rolls) and complimenting dipping sauces. We waddled out of there that day, let me assure you.

I’m linking to another blog here for Vegetable Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce on Two Peas & Their Pod (the names spring/summer rolls can get swapped back and forth apparently). I want to go back and try the recipes for myself and this is easier than bookmarking them. So if you try the recipes, let me know if they’re any good, m’kay?

And while you’re there, follow their link through to the next blog for some disgustingly gorgeous food pics.

Trang Viet Cuisine
1524 E Fowler Ave
Tampa, FL 33612
(813) 979-1464


Tofu Ball & Peanut Sauce, Chopstix

Tofu Ball w Peanut Sauce

I cannot order this dish with a straight face. Maybe I watched too much Beavis & Butthead as an impressionable youth. Or I’m just perpetually immature. But I’m usually one of the people at the table that’s most likely to say “Hehe, she said balls”.

When the waiter asks what I want, I try very hard to casually tell him I would like the Tofu Ball with Peanut Sauce. And yes, it is on the menu without the ‘s’ (ball vs. balls? hm…), so I feel like I’m mocking an East Asian accent when I say it out loud. Which I am not.

You can opt for the same thing with tempeh or seitan instead of tofu, but I like the tofu here because it’s lighter than the other two. The peanut sauce is delicious but heavy, and needs something to balance it out. You also get big chunks of veggies in with the tofu. Usually carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, snow peas, and whatever else is in season. My only complaint is that the veggies are often quite big, and cooked exactly long enough, so still very crunchy. I have a big mouth only when it comes to the verbal garbage I have been known to let out of my face, but my mouth is not actually that big, so the size of these veggies can be intimidating to try to work around. Especially with chopsticks.

The tofu is dipped in batter and deep fried, giving it a light crispy crust, tossed into a gigantic bowl with veggies, drowned in peanut sauce at the perfect combination of sweet and salty, and then sprinkled with chopped peanuts. Oh, and you get a side of rice (you can switch white rice for brown rice, which I usually recommend, but for this dish, you’ll probably want a lighter version). Be prepared to ask for a to-go box.

When The Man and I go out to Chopstix, we usually order two different dishes and trade back and forth. Especially with this one, because it’s quite filling. It’s great to balance it with a light noodle bowl like Ap Chao Tofu & Veggies. I always start off with the Thai iced tea (sweet and lots of caffeine, so beware), and his usual is a Sapporo because you have to drink that or a Kirin with Asian food. I think it’s a law somewhere.

Cafe, SW 13th St on Biven’s Arm
Open 7 days
Bistro, NW 43rd St in Thornbrook
Open Mon-Sat