Downtown restaurant Char packs a flavorful punch despite an unassuming appearance


Lynlee Derrick

This food is freaking great. 10/10, just like Ratatouille.

I used to be the pickiest eater.

I wouldn’t eat something if it wasn’t from the store my mother bought it from. I would never even try new things despite constant endorsement from my family.

Honestly, I don’t know how I survived.

So if six-year-old would’ve seen current me, bundled up yet buzzing with I’m-so-hungry-I-could-eat-a-horse type of nerves, biting into a taco with kimchi on it, I think she would cry.

And current sixteen-year-old me did cry; a tear of happiness only good food can incite slipped out of my eye when I finished devouring my food at Char.

This restaurant, located on the edge of downtown, was a daunting winter trip from my warm home in Ada. So when I walked into the unassuming building, I was somewhat frazzled yet decisively starving from the ride on over.

I think the man working behind the counter, who later introduced himself as Max, could tell my mother and I were perplexed by the menu. He waved us over—smiling the whole time—and began explaining what exactly char is: an Asian-fusion-esque build-it-yourself restaurant. To explain the build-it-yourself part, the menu listed noodles, broth bowls, and tacos.

I, a connoisseur of all things Taco Bell tacos, was infatuated. The ingredients may have been presented in the same style as a Subway ordering station, but each ingredient looked fresh and promisingly plump.

To tag along with the already enticing ingredients, Max was the literal textbook definition of welcoming. I think he’s attached to the definitions page under the “see examples” section.

My mother and I drooled, yet we drooled in a respectful way, something my traditional southern Grandparents would approve of.

To answer that drool, and to show his kindness, the worker let us “try before we buy”; catering to my vegetarian status, he made a black bean taco piled with kimchi, green onions, sesame sauce, and yum-yum sauce. For my mother, he slid over a chicken taco with the same toppings. Both, in case you were wondering, were made to order with those promising ingredients decadently topping each taco.

Seating ourselves at the bar running across open windows, I ate my taco in four bites. It only took four—each one with more flavor than the next—to brew that previously-mentioned tear. I had finished before my mother came back with our drinks; and when she did sit back down, I raved about the taco.

I had black beans on mine, which perfectly complemented the crunch of the kimchi’s base. Intertwining with the soft flour shell, the yum-yum sauce was the perfect coating on top of the green onions; the sauce was sweet yet savory, bringing each topping together as if it was developed just for my taco. Funnily enough, the yum-yum sauce was as it is house-made in Char, and the flavor attests to it.

My four-bite taco was superbly sapid, singing to my tastebuds, but my fast-eating appetite sadly wasn’t subdued, so, along with encouragement from my mother’s thumbs-up as she ate her chicken taco, I ordered another black bean taco—exact same toppings too—and a steak one for her.

We finished those two a little bit slower, allowing ourselves to truly taste the tacos. They’re unlike any other place; they deviate from the standard Qdoba, Taco Bell, and others have set, especially for the quickness of our food.

Each bite was an appreciated punch of flavor and freshness as the meal left me a tad entranced with the food. I could already tell I would be craving it sooner rather than later.

And I could already tell I’d be coming back again.

The food wasn’t expensive as the total for three tacos and two drinks came to $12, cheaper than I expected for an experimental restaurant downtown. Such a low price shows quality doesn’t have to cost at Char.

So as I write this—still thinking of the food if I’m being frank—Char is undoubtedly one of the best gems in Grand Rapids with great food and even better service as it hides amongst a row of restaurants, proving itself worthy of the drive.