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July 06, 2009

Best Bites: Drunken Noodle House

9 Park Street, Essex Junction 288-9499

One of my favorite culinary triangles is right in Essex’s Five Corners. My fondness for Barney Crnalic’s creations at Café Mediterano is well documented. I had a superb meal at the Belted Cow last week. Now I have to give props to the little Thai spot that could, Drunken Noodle House.

First opened as Lemongrass in the South Burlington building now occupied by Kong Chow, the super-low prices, varied menu and eclectic decorations had me at ‘Sawadee’. When Drunken Noodle opened in Essex last year, things just got better.

On a roster loaded with Thai specialties prepared with reliable excellence, there is nothing like the crispy tamarind chicken. Coated in corn flour, the tender pieces of meat loll in a shallow pool of sweet and sour tamarind sauce. The hallmark of Thai cuisine is the ideal balance between sweet, sour and spicy tastes. Here, it attains perfection. Did I mention it’s $7.67?

Duck is by far my favorite fowl, and you can get several iterations at Drunken Noodle, all but one topping out at $12.55. My favorite is the subtle and, once again, ideally balanced Pad Ped duck, crispy slices of the bird in a subtly spicy (though it’s labeled with two stars for heat), with green beans, peppers, basil and ginger and just a hint of sweetness.

Desserts are often something of a lost cause at Asian restaurants. Not so here. I have trouble deciding between the area’s best mango sticky rice − perfectly tender, yet slightly al dente and bathed in thickened coconut milk – the banana egg rolls bathed in chocolate sauce and honey; and the Thai ice cream – a sort of east-Asian brownie sundae – a scoop of vanilla ice cream covered in jack fruit, all sitting atop a warm pile of sticky rice. Who knew fruit and rice could be so decadent?

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