Toppings such as lime wedges, green onion, bean sprouts and Thai basil leaves added big flavor to the wonton and tom yum soups. Stephanie Gerson / Daily Nexus.

Replacing longtime Isla Vista eatery Pho Bistro, which had a 16-year run at 903 Embarcadero del Norte, ASIA 101 opened to the public last August. The Asian fusion restaurant is a new member of the Mojo family which also includes boba shop Mojo Café on 6530 Seville Road.

The pair of restaurants is owned by UC Santa Barbara class of 2015 alumnus Boxi Wang, who first opened Mojo Teahouse in August 2018 after noticing I.V.’s lack of quality milk tea and fast, casual Asian cuisine. During Mojo’s five years in business, they’ve experimented with their tea selection as well as a variety of savory quick bites, ranging from rice bowls to kimbap.

Yet over the years, Mojo Teahouse phased out its well-loved popcorn chicken and kimchi fries to focus on expanding their drink menu and other Asian specialties like Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches. At ASIA 101, Mojo’s fried favorites are back along with a limited menu of noodle soups and rice dishes.

On a blustery winter night as I sat in my freezing apartment curled up under three blankets dangerously close to my space heater, nothing sounded more appealing than a large bowl of warm soup. So, I ventured out into the cold to pick up a few of ASIA 101’s soups and appetizers to warm the bellies of my friend and me.

We decided to order the wonton noodle soup, creamy tom yum noodle soup and kimchi fries. Once I arrived back home, we assembled our noodle soups by adding our noodles, protein and toppings to the large containers of broth and dug right in.

We took our first few slurps of soup.

“I’m feeling kind of full, which is not an easy feat coming from an empty stomach,” my friend said.

Granted, he was high when he said this. What he meant was that the portion sizes were generous, and the soups were very satisfying, with each soup capable of serving more than one person.

The wonton soup features a clear beef broth, boiled shrimp cooked to perfection, a generous amount of shrimp wontons and bok choy. ASIA 101 serves this soup with egg noodles, but customers have the option to swap for different noodles of their choice, including vermicelli or rice noodles; in hindsight, I should have swapped my noodles. The egg noodles in my soup were very chewy and perhaps a little undercooked, but they eventually softened after floating around for some time in the broth. I liked that this soup came with some bok choy stalks, even though they were a little difficult to wrestle into a singular bite. On their own, the broth and wontons were lacking in flavor, but this deficit was improved once we added in the complimentary but optional toppings. These toppings included lime wedges, green onion, bean sprouts and Thai basil leaves, as well as the additional hoisin sauce and sriracha chili sauce packets that were in our to-go bag.

Tom yum soup is known for its rich and creamy coconut milk base that’s combined with lemongrass, Thai basil and Thai chilies. My friend and I are pescatarians and chose shrimp again as our additional protein for this soup, but other protein options for soup include rare steak, beef flank, beef brisket, meatballs, combo beef, chicken and tofu. We preferred the pho rice noodles that were included in this soup and cooked to achieve a pleasantly soft texture. I personally wished that this soup came with more vegetables like the bok choy pieces in the wonton soup.

While the prices for these soups are on the more expensive end – $13.99 each plus $3 to $5 depending on your choice of protein – the portion sizes reflected the price.

While surprising, the combination of shredded kimchi, melted mozzarella, mayo and hot sauce on French fries was delicious. Stephanie Gerson / Daily Nexus

What we were most excited about were the kimchi fries, which from the description on ASIA 101’s menu scared me a little bit — the fries featured a combination of shredded kimchi, melted mozzarella, mayo and hot sauce. Mozzarella and kimchi in one dish felt wrong. But the only thing that was wrong about these fries was my original opinion about them (and maybe their slight sogginess). The fries featured a delicate blend of sweetness and spice. Out of all of the items we tried from ASIA 101, we liked this appetizer the best for its creativity and interesting flavors (My friend noted that the fries tasted even better while high, and I took his word for it.)

ASIA 101’s noodle soups are a great value for the price, packed with your protein of choice and reminiscent of your favorite Asian comfort foods. Yet for times when you’re feeling more adventurous, this I.V. establishment has appetizers to surprise your taste buds that you can’t find anywhere else in the area. With cold weather expected for Santa Barbara’s forecast for the coming weeks, I’ll continue to use this weather to try out the rest of this restaurant’s cozy soups and intriguing fried tapas.

A version of this article appeared on p. 7 of the January 25, 2023 version of the Daily Nexus.

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Stephanie Gerson
Stephanie Gerson is a third-year Art History major and On the Menu Co-Editor. She can usually be found taking long walks, wandering about museums or grocery shopping.