PICTURED: Gyoza (potstickers) are just one of the many excellent offerings at the Pan Asian eatery Live to Eat. Photo by Leslie Westbrook
Live to Eat
842 E Ojai Ave., Ojai
Do you live to eat or eat to live? Both, actually — yet, I have found some confusion in the unique name of Live to Eat, a recent addition to Ojai’s restaurant scene. It took a little sleuthing to find the mostly Pan Asian restaurant with a wide-ranging menu of dishes from around the globe. To say there’s something for everyone here may be the understatement of the year.
During my first two visits, Live to Eat had no sign on its freshly painted building a few blocks from the center of town. Nevertheless, I was delighted to be greeted by the clever, arty interior wall sign made of hanging Chinese soup spoons.
The bright and cheerful spaces include a full bar (with a Morris Louis-like painting embedded with beer, wine and sake bottles!) and two dining rooms. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, (I failed to see Thai, but it may be lurking on the menu) and even Argentinian dishes are on the menu. The full bar has an extensive wine, beer and sake list. Non-alcoholic beverages include bobas, limitless iced green tea, sodas and taro tea.
On my first foray, I ordered the “bet you can’t eat just one” tempura enoki mushrooms (Japanese) and chaso bao (Chinese pork buns) from the menu that includes pho from Vietnam, edamame from Japan and even a Ramen cheeseburger.
The crispy mushrooms arrived with two handmade dipping sauces — one that started sweet and ended with a kick, and a chipotle sauce. Lightly fried, this is a tasty treat best shared, although a hungry diner could manage the entire basket. The bao (filled with tender pork), pickled cabbage and slivered vegetables were attractively presented in a small steamer basket.
At a neighboring table, another patron raved about a mango dish with a sauce poured from a small pitcher. On a return visit we shared one (one is plenty for four) and all concurred. This was the fluffiest, most delish shaved ice with coconut. The dessert comes in several flavors, including Oreo.
The soft shell crab burger looked VERY appealing at another table, and a friend ordered the messy but filling meal on a return visit.
Live to Eat’s offerings are extensive. There are 26 small bites, including an avocado hand roll, gyoza, shui mai and roasted Brussels sprouts. “Feeling light” items include lettuce wraps (the chicken lettuce wrap was the least satisfying — it didn’t have much flavor), and chic-corn salad made of grilled chicken with corn and truffle dressing. “Go Big” has Argentinean-style steak, spicy lobster ramen and avocado curry chicken. “From the Wok”: Sichuan boiled fish or garlic butter noodles. There’s “Rice it Up” (Kimchi fried rice with Spam anyone?) and both classic and seafood ramens (15 choices in total) with an array of additional toppings ranging from shirataki (yam) or kale noodles to leeks or toast.
On a subsequent visit with friends, we ordered across the edible landscape, some mentioned above, as well as the spicy wontons, mapo tofu (steamed tofu in a spicy sauce) and okomoniyaki, a Japanese dish that won praise.
But it was the mango dessert, like eating fluffy snowballs with coconut, that totally stole our hearts.
I chatted with the very nice owner, Sue, on my first visit. The native of Korea is not only ambitious with her menu here; she owns five other restaurants: a Thai place across the street; Taiyo Ramen and Prawn and Basil (both in Thousand Oaks); Tsuki’s Ramen in Westlake and Sushi Su in Agoura Hills.
Live to Eat is a fun addition to Ojai, especially when you want to dine with a group of friends and work your way through the menu. And it would be a great place to celebrate Chinese New Year 2020 —Year of the Rat — on Jan. 25.