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Cheap eats: Lemon Thai is more than it appears

From a street view, Lemon Thai has an ambiance equivalent to that of the typical Americanized Chinese restaurant found next door. The inexpensive light fixtures, cliché plastic wrap on tables, and loud bings and bangs of the wok resonating from the kitchen started to make me doubt the Yelp! reviews that said this is a restaurant locals must visit or order from. Exhausted from the walk, my friends and I passed on the appetizers in order to keep our hopes up for the main course. There it was, the famous pad thai—chicken, pork, vegetable, beef, or shrimp—printed in big blue letters underneath the “Dinner Specials” column. While the pots kept clanking in the background, a line of people waiting for their orders sat to one side on wooden chairs, quietly chatting away.

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And this is where the restaurant stops being just any Thai food joint. We ordered three classic Thai dishes: chicken pad thai, a bowl of drunken udon with chicken, and pineapple fried rice. The chopsticks were quality, did not splinter, and had round-tipped ends, a great sign. My first bite of drunken udon was filled with the traditional spices so often used in Thai cuisine: the pink peppercorn with its numbing sensation, red chili flake and hot pepper with their warm burn. The vegetables were comprised of firm broccoli, baby corn, crunchy glazed carrot, and green beans. What made the difference, what separated this from all the other Thai food I have had in the past, was the way the udon noodles were prepared. Although they were not made from scratch, the noodles had the right balance of chewy and soft, and surprisingly soaked up a lot of the sweet and spice from the sauce. The portion size was enough to feed both myself and my little sister. The other dishes we ordered, the pad thai and fried rice, were decent, but not much better than what I have had in the past.

Upon finishing my meal, I was so pleasantly surprised by the food that I asked to interview the head chef. Going by his American name, Audy, he said, “My main recipes come from my grandmother back in Bangkok.” Open since 2006, Lemon Thai, he said, is an ever-changing take on some traditional Thai food. “I try to keep the recipes as close to what you can find in Bangkok as possible,” he replied in a heavy Thai accent. The restaurant’s signature dish is pad see you, a soy sauce based noodle stir-fry overflowing with vegetables and a choice of meat. Between the five minutes I spent talking to the chef and owner and the food I had tasted, I understood that this is not just any local take out joint because these are people who really know what they are doing when it comes to Thai cuisine.

For a Sunday night out dinner with friends, Lemon Thai is a place to be for college students. However, it is quite far from Tufts, a good half an hour. If you’re feeling lazy, you can always If you love good food and a dive atmosphere, then this cheap eat will definitely interest you.

Ambiance: C

Service: B

Food (taste): B

Food (presentation): B-

Price: $10/person

Overall: B-

215 Highland Avenue, Somerville MA, 02143

– David Kheyman

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