Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sticky Rice

4018 N. Western Ave., Chicago

This is not only one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, it's also one of the best thai restaurants I've ever been to. What sets it apart is the extensive menu, which features a multitude of dishes I've never heard of. Yes, they have classics like pad thai, panang, mussamun, etc but if you go, broaden your horizons and try something new* - the menu is extensive, and, unless you've spent some time in Northern Thailand, I guarantee that a lot of it will be unfamiliar. I say this, but I also have to admit that every time I go, I order the same thing - the Pad Noor My Phew, ground pork with sour bamboo shoots and hot peppers. The level of spice varies from titillating to excruciating (and I'm never entirely sure why they decide to lean a certain direction), but there's always the amazing, delicious flavor of the sour bamboo, which I've never experienced anywhere else, and which I absolutely adore. But honestly, almost everything I've tried there has been fantastic - the only other entree I ordered was some kind of red curry with pork hox (I think that's what they're called in English? The knuckles? Very tender meat?) that was very nice, and I've tried bites of friends' entrees, which have all been lovely. The salads, soups and appetizers, I can say more about - the beef salad is fairly typical but very good, meanwhile, the banana blossom salad is a wonderful combination of chicken, shrimp, banana and hearts of palm, light and refreshing even though you can't stop eating it. The soups are all good, and have a kind of hominess to them, roughly chopped ingredients, etc. The Eastern sausage is the best I've ever had (I prefer it to the Northern sausage they also have), served with hunks of cabbage and a pile of fresh cilantro and ginger. The shrimp-in-a-blanket are succulent shrimpses encased in a lemongrass curry paste and won ton wrapper and then deep fried, and they are heavenly. The satay is satay, but a very delicious example thereof. The deep fried banana in won ton skin is perhaps less exciting than you might hope, but still quite pleasant. The fried quail are flavorful, even if the bones are somewhat cumbersome. I really enjoy the bamboo stuffed with pork, but I'm kind of a glutton for bamboo.

Did I mention that the place is super cheap (and BYOB)? I don't think I've ever spent more than $20, and I've never left without feeling like I'm about to pass out from eating so much. The room is nice, though small and not especially intimate. Service is brisk and pleasant. There used to be a bit of a wait, but then they closed down for awhile (I think the health dept shut them down briefly?) and since then, I haven't encountered a line. They're open later than most places - I think until 10 or 11 on weeknights? And parking is always readily available, though crossing Western does make you feel like you're playing frogger. Seriously though, this place is, quite simply, phenomenal.

*A friend of mine ordered the fried worms once. And you know what? They were good too. Though I dunno that I'd be able to get through a whole plate of them. My mother ordered the curry with pork blood, and if you're wondering, in look and texture it resembles a dark maroon tofu.