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Foreign Food Finds

Ankur Chawla | Monday, November 28, 2011

 

My quest for the best Thai food in South Bend is complete. If you’re looking for flavorful food and one of the toughest spice challenges I’ve faced, go to Cambodian Thai.

At first glance, Cambodian Thai isn’t the prettiest girl at the ball. The storefront sign is easy to overlook and the inside is more cramped than a Morrissey double. If you are planning on going there, I’d recommend take out, as there is barely enough room to seat 15 people in the entire restaurant and there’s hardly ever a semi-quiet moment. Adding to the college dorm feel, the “menu” overhead of the cashier is reminiscent of an old hot dog vendor sign (be sure to look at the menu on yelp or urbanspoon.com beforehand).

What they lacked in ambiance, Cambodian Thai more than made up for it in the quality and quantity of their dishes. The first time I ordered, the waitress asked about spice level for my dish. Naturally, my bold self said, “spicy,” to which she replied, “American hot, or Thai hot?” I should have taken this as a warning. I should have kept my ego and bravado in check. Instead, I thought to myself, “Challenge Accepted,” and ordered Thai hot.

Having ordered take out, the drive back from downtown South Bend was unbearable with the bags of Thai food taunting us, waiting to be eaten while smelling delicious. I had the Green Curry, which is a coconut milk based curry with chicken, eggplant, bamboo shoots and plenty of spice. Even with a full serving of rice to go with it, I had to drink 8 Grab n’ Go juice boxes to handle the “Thai hot” level of spice. Still, it was worth every (mildly painful) bite and the best curry I’ve had within 50 miles of Notre Dame (yes, that includes my house and my mother’s cooking).

Other standouts on the menu included their Panang and Red Curry, which each had solid strong flavors and as much kick as you ask for. The noodle dishes (i.e. Drunken Noodles, Pad Thai) while good couldn’t remotely compete with the curry options on the menu. The portion sizes are more than enough to split if you’re feeling generous, but also manageable if you have big appetite. Prices ranged from $6-$8 for curry dishes, and $5-$7 for noodles. They are very flexible with making dishes purely vegetarian and such, just adding to my adoration of the restaurant.

Overall, Cambodian Thai isn’t the best place to take someone out for a sit down meal, but for a relatively cheap take out option, it is my new “go to” and the best Thai food I’ve had in quite some time. Though I will recommend being conservative with your spice ratings — a friend of mine couldn’t handle what the storeowner labeled as mild.

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The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

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Foreign Food Finds

Ankur Chawla | Monday, November 7, 2011

One of the most touted restaurants in the Notre Dame area, J.W. Chen’s is hardly a well-kept secret. Nestled between Ari’s Grill and a Papa Johns, it is quite possibly the best Chinese food in the South Bend-Mishawaka region.

Admittedly, the first impressions when walking in were far from great. The décor, while 99% classy, appropriately themed, and tasteful, was marred by a giant cardboard bubble tea cutout overlooking the register that seemed a little out of place. There is very limited seating to accommodate the high volume of alumni, students and locals, and even less room to stand and wait to be seated (my friends and I were forced to wait in the awkward area between the two sets of double doors). Then, once finally seated, we were in a combination of leather, old-fashioned, wheeled office chairs, and the wooden chairs one would find at south dining hall.

Once seated, though, the meal was phenomenal. We started with a round of hot tea that was the perfect remedy for the overstated cold South Bend weather. Though we avoided appetizers, our table was served an order of Almond Shrimp on the house, which ironically happened to be the best dish we had. One wouldn’t expect quality or tasty seafood in the Midwest, but even those of us from the coasts loved the shrimp. Crusted with sliced almond pieces and in a pool of sweet almond ginger glaze, there’s little else to say to describe its deliciousness.

Moving to our actual dishes, we were each asked to give our spice tolerance on a scale of 1 to 10. Being my bold, fearless, and sometimes unintelligent self, naturally I said 10. As the owner laughed and said, “We’ll see about that!” I waited in fear for what they might bring. She had recommended the Ginger Chicken after hearing I liked spice, so I went along and ordered the dish. It came, covered in red chili powder and freshly sliced jalapeños, looking quite daunting. Still, don’t worry readers, I muscled my way through it, and aside from the moment I thought I could handle eating the peppers straight up I didn’t break a sweat.

Other noteworthy menu items included foremost the Ma Pa Tofu (tofu with a spicy sauce); despite being under the PORK heading on the menu it is in fact vegetarian, spicy, and delicious. The shrimp with lobster sauce, despite having a distinctive egg flavor in it, was also quite good and the sauce went particularly well with the mountain of sticky rice served at each table. Even the Fu Na Chicken (chicken with spicy black bean sauce) was well worth it, as there was truly not a dish I tried that wasn’t thoroughly enjoyable.

Like I mentioned before, J.W. Chen’s is not unknown to most of the Notre Dame community. But, for those of you who have, like myself, overlooked it to instead order from Golden Dragon because of ease and convenience, I challenge you to try J.W. and I’m sure you will not be disappointed. At the very least, you can admire the statue of a cat holding its paw up sitting on the cashier’s table.