Newton — Manow Thai Kitchen, which opened in June in Four Corners, is cute as a button. It’s in a nondescript strip mall and if you don’t know the area you might start to have skeptical conversations with your GPS. But step inside and you will be greeted with pretty photos of menu dishes hung on cheery lime-green walls (Manow means “lime” in Thai), modern light fixtures, little vases of fresh pink carnations on every table, and very kind service. The Newton Centre location formerly housed a Sichuan Gourmet House.
The food mirrors the decor with bright, clean flavors and sweet presentation. Just look at those little hand-carved carrot roses, which you’ll inevitably push aside to tear into the accompanying addictive chicken larb ($8.50), a spicy dish of ground meat stir-fried with red onion, fragrant lemongrass, and a pungent kick of fish sauce. Keep scooping it up with sticky rice until it’s gone and you have a lot more food coming.
With a plethora of appetizers on offer, like tod mun ($6.50), crisp, savory little patties of ground chicken and shrimp spiked with curry and served with sweet-and-sour sauce topped with chopped peanuts, you might be tempted to roll your eyes when a dining companion orders crab rangoon ($5.95). But set aside your pretentions and tuck into the crispy golden pouches, fried to perfection, filled with imitation crab and cream cheese. You have to admit they are pretty darned tasty dipped in that sweet sauce.
For mains, panang crispy duck ($16.95) is succulent, and very rich, with fried skin and tender meat in a sweet-hot creamy curry, served over steamed broccoli with a side of rice. Cashew-nut pork ($10.95) is a satisfying mix of onions, peppers, pineapple, and scallions with tender slices of the meat and just a touch of after-burn. BBQ chicken with sticky rice ($11.95) arrives as a carved, spice-rubbed half-bird lacquered in a salty-sweet glaze. Drizzle on a thin spicy chile tamarind sauce to make the dish pop.
The popular noodle dish khao soi ($9.95) is presented differently here than elsewhere we’ve tried it. The mild yellow curry and egg noodles are the same, but the chicken in served two ways — with breaded, fried breast, and braised wings — and the curry broth is soupy, in a restorative, not-too-rich way. Pickled mustard greens cut through any richness and the topping of fried noodles adds crunch.
For dessert we try fried bananas with ice cream ($5.25), little slices of fruit wrapped in skins you might find on egg rolls, then fried crisp and served with ordinary vanilla ice cream. The dish is a little bland. Mild Thai hot tea ($2.50) is wonderfully soothing.
Manow is run by a married couple. Chef “PJ” Unseethaharuthai is in the kitchen and his wife, Waree Yimsiriwatthana, runs front-of-house operations. This is the first restaurant for the pair, and they’ve managed to open with a cheery, fresh, bright spot.
Manow Thai Kitchen
1138 Beacon St., Four Corners, Newton Centre, 617-244-2858, www.manowthaikitchen.com.All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $4-$7.50. Entrees $7.25-$16.95. Desserts $3.50-$5.95
Hours Mon-Sat 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun noon-10 p.m.
What to order Chicken larb, panang crispy duck, BBQ chicken with sticky rice, khao soi.
Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.