Cilantro Thai & Vietnamese is tucked into a charming corner of Woburn Center. With an updated dining room, bright light, and pleasant views, it’s the kind of spot you’d like in your neighborhood for an inexpensive night out. We overhear one customer tell owners May and Joe Anektanasap that his wife’s picky eating habits precluded them from ever eating takeout — that is, until Cilantro arrived on the scene in January. There are introductions all around before he leaves with his brown-bag dinner.
The friendly service extends to the dining room, where May waits on us attentively. One dining companion is a sucker for crab rangoon so we order the appetizer ($5.25) and are pleasantly surprised to find the crispy, creamy pockets are house-made.
To balance the fried cream cheese we order a super-refreshing papaya salad ($7.25). It’s a crunchy blend of shredded tangy green papaya, tomatoes, and green beans, garnished with a few shrimp and topped with crushed peanuts and a lime-fish sauce dressing. It’s both cool and fiery hot, though May admits that she only used half the usual amount of chiles, because we just didn’t look like the kind of customer who would want Thai-style heat. I did, but another dining companion was at her limit, so be sure to specify your preference.
Though the restaurant serves both Thai and Vietnamese food, the husband and wife team are originally from the Bangkok area. This is their first restaurant, but Joe’s mother, Jill Anektanasap, who used to run a Thai restaurant in Hingham, can be found in the kitchen most days. Jill’s cooking expertise is highlighted in some of the dishes from the “Specials From Cilantro Kitchen” section of the menu. Chicken Gra Paw ($9.95) is addictive, with ground chicken, sauteed bell peppers, and onions in a savory basil sauce. Spicy beef ($10.95) has tender slices of the meat stir-fried with a rainbow of tender-crisp carrots, summer squash, onions and mushrooms. (Alas, the mushrooms taste canned.) Chicken cashew nut ($10.95) has those same veggies plus pineapple and cashews stir-fried with chicken in a golden secret house sauce. Unfortunately, the ubiquitous pad Thai ($8.95) is a disappointing clump of noodles with flecks of egg, chicken, and overcooked shrimp.
Vietnamese dishes will satisfy a craving but could use more sparkle. Bun Thit Nuong with grilled pork ($7.95) has toothsome slices of meat lacquered in a sweet and savory marinade, but the bed of noodles are hot, robbing it of the refreshing quality one usually enjoys in a vermicelli salad. Tai Nam Pho ($7.95) would make a decent cold cure with its rare sliced eye-round and tender flank steak swimming in an anise spiked broth, but it’s so salty it’s almost guaranteed your rings won’t fit the next day.
Though there are a few misses, the heart of this family restaurant comes through in the service and cooking. The dining room is often sparsely occupied, but if they keep refining the dishes, there will be more fans like the neighborhood couple happily eating takeout together for the first time in years.
CILANTRO THAI & VIETNAMESE
383 Main St.,
All major credit cards accepted. Bathrooms are not wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $4.95-$6.25, Entrees $6.95-$15.95, Desserts $4.25-$5.95
Hours Tue-Sat 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun 5-10 p.m. Closed Mondays.
What to order papaya salad, Chicken Gra Paw, spicy beef, crab rangoon
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.