By Iuliana Petre

Killeen Daily Herald

John Paradice, a Killeen Independent School District employee and Killeen native since 1989, admits that he enjoys exploring authentic foreign cuisine at Central Texas-area restaurants.

Luckily, because of Killeen's cultural diversity, a multitude of family-owned, foreign cuisine bistros have sprouted around town over the years.

"I like new and different cultural cuisines," Paradice said. "For me, that's much more interesting than going to chain restaurants. Plus, I like to cook, so I try different things and then experiment with the recipes at home."

And although Paradice can list more than 20 restaurants he visits regularly in the area that serve Peruvian, Thai, Indian, Korean, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Southern and soul food, German, Italian and Hawaiian cuisine, Paradice still has a hard time picking his favorites.

"It's tough to narrow down my favorites," Paradice said. "There are a lot of great places around here. I didn't realize how many places there are until I started making a list."

A market for diversity

Central Texas has a market for authentic world cuisines for several reasons: the nature of the population's demographics; the freshness and home-cooked style of the meals prepared at the restaurants; and soldiers can relate to the menu.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey Demographic and Housing Estimates from 2005-07, the more than 100,000 people living in Killeen represent more than 18 ethnicities.

"When people come in (to the Texas Grill BBQ and Crab Shack), they get an actual home-cooked meal," said Kenietta Johnson, one of two owners of the Texas Grill BBQ and Crab Shack in Harker Heights. "And every meal is prepared fresh. Nothing is sitting back there."

The Texas Grill BBQ and Crab Shack has been open for almost seven years and is best known for serving all-you-can-eat catfish every Friday night.

The Crab Shack also boasts the "junk burger," its biggest seller, which features two meat patties, onions, jalapeños, mushrooms, bacon and cheese on a bun, and fresh seafood every day.

"I think people naturally gravitate to these smaller, family-owned restaurants because of the home cooking," Paradice said. "It's fun to eat there, talk to friends about the recipes and then make your own creations."

And as the only restaurant serving authentic Indian cuisine, the Red Onion Indian Bistro on U.S. Highway 190 in Killeen, has been open for more than a year, serving a daily lunch and dinner buffet as well as menu options.

The owners of the Red Onion chose to open their restaurant in Killeen, versus Temple or Waco, because of the military population.

"A lot of military (service members) that deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq, become familiar with the food in those countries, which is similar to Indian food," said Kam Patel, the manager of the Red Onion. "Our menu options keep people coming back."

The popular dishes at the Red Onion are the Tandoori dishes.

A tandoor is a cylindrical clay oven used in cooking and baking in India, Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Middle East, Central Asian countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The tandoor is used for cooking certain types of Indian and Afghan foods such as chicken and bread varieties like tandoori roti and naan, and the food is cooked over a hot charcoal fire or wooden fire.

"I don't think I've had a bad meal (at any of the area restaurants)," Paradice said, adding that he encourages others to support the small restaurants because they bring a needed diversity to the community. "There's a significant portion of the population that misses out on the incredible variety here."

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