If things feel familiar when you walk into Basil Rice, a new eatery in Brookline near Comm. Ave., perhaps you’ve been to its sister restaurant, Thai Spice, in West Roxbury. The same energetic manager runs both spots, and her expert touch shows in the dishes.
Basil Rice, opened last month in a cozy space that formerly housed a Pita Pit franchise, bills itself as “Asian street food.” But the fried noodle and rice platters, plus salads, soups, and wraps, call to mind fast-casual Thai food with a few other Asian specialties thrown in for good measure.
Owned by realtor Apisit “Mo” Limlomwongse, the place is managed by Luckana “Luckie” Sriweawnetr, who greets customers she has already met by name, and makes sure everyone feels welcome in the 20-seat dining room. Recipes are inspired by her chef-father, she explains, who heads up his own restaurant, Thai Blossom, in Rangeley, Maine.
Tofu pad Thai ($7.95) showcases perfectly cooked rice noodles, stir-fried with tofu, bean sprouts, and tender bits of scrambled egg throughout. Don’t be fooled by the monochrome appearance. The noodles are not doused with gloppy red sauce like you sometimes see, but rather are seasoned with tamarind juice, sugar, and a splash of Asian fish sauce.
Sweet soy sauce lends flavor to pork pad se ew ($7.95) with wide rice noodles, broccoli, carrot, and scallions. For duck fried rice ($8.95), the steamed long grains are tossed in a wok with shreds of poultry, halved grape tomatoes, and green chiles for appetizing heat. This is the most savory fried rice platter we’ve had in a long while.
A brightly seasoned green papaya salad ($5.95) combines cool, crunchy shreds of the fruit with slivers of red and green bell pepper, julienned carrots, cilantro, and Thai bird chiles. This outstanding dish is garnished with shrimp, still warm from the grill. The dressing, made with lime juice, palm sugar, Asian fish sauce, and plenty of garlic, makes this dish sing — and our eyes water. We didn’t request this level of heat, but we’re happy the kitchen didn’t tone down this traditionally spicy salad. You can ask for a mild version, or opt for the beef salad ($6.95), thin slices of marinated grilled meat, basil leaves, and scallions, tossed in a mild red chile-infused marinade, the right balance of tart and pleasantly sweet. Both salads feel like summer in a sunny, exotic locale.
Not all dishes hit a high note. Korean beef ($6.95 in a whole-wheat tortilla-style wrap, $8.95 with white or brown rice) doesn’t taste particularly Korean, even with kimchi folded into the stir-fry. Garlic pork ($5.95 wrap, $7.95 with rice) is a rather ho-hum combo of meat, snow peas, and carrots. The Thai dishes are the ones that shine, even simple ones, like an appetizer-size bowl of shrimp spicy soup ($5.95) a well-made seafood broth balancing sour, sweet, and heat, with sliced mushrooms, cilantro, and a couple of tender crustaceans.
The dining area offers a cheerful, bare-bones, ambience. Most customers drop by for take-out. But if you decide to dine in after ordering at the counter, the staff brings out your meal on ceramic plates with real flatware and is attentive if you need hot sauce or an extra pair of chopsticks.
On a sunny Friday, a mother walks in with two sullen tweens in tow. She points out mango sticky rice ($5.95) on the menu, and one of the girls visibly brightens. “I’m so excited,” she says to her friend, talking up this favorite dessert served with spears of the tropical fruit and drizzled with coconut milk.
This food can even change the mood of a teen.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at email@example.com.