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The Green Mango dishes up tasty and affordable Southeast Asian fare

By Andrew X. Pham

WHAT IS A food critic's worst nightmare? I found out a few weeks ago while checking out a new restaurant located on a stretch of East San Carlos Street between 10th and 11th streets. The spot was formerly the site of a Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant that served fairly decent grub some 10 years ago, but with the rapid growth of better eateries downtown, its decline was inevitable. So it was with relief that I noticed the space had become a Thai fast-food joint--something this college neighborhood sorely needed.

Soon after the grand opening, I swung by to scout out the new kid on the block. It was cozy and clean with fresh paint and new tiles. I was halfway through my meal when a petite woman came out of the kitchen and smiled at me. It took me all of two heartbeats, but I recognized that room-brightening, mischievous grin. It was an ex-ladyfriend whom I still count a good pal, though we hadn't talked in years. (Darn, the longer you live in a city, the smaller it gets.)

It turns out her family had made the big leap into the dark uncertainty of restauranting, and she, a full-time nurse, also pitched in for double duty at the restaurant. So there I was, caught in the act and perspiring like a pig next to a roasting pit. I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't. No, this fork-slinger couldn't simply slip quietly into the sunset.

Fortunately, her aunt is a good cook, her fare good enough to grace bigger eateries. Eighteen items, give or take a few, regularly stock the steam tables and are available either a la carte or as part of combination plates ($3.50 for two items, $4.50 for three). Portions lean toward lunch-size. Those with large appetites may want to order extra-large servings.

The battered shrimp ($1 for four shrimp) were a little oily and batter-heavy, but definitely munchable. The satay pork ($1 for a skewer), a true grill item never meant for the heating lamps, tasted dry.

The board hosted big Thai favorites such as tom yum soup, musaman beef, pad thai noodles and green papaya salad--all good and bargain-priced. Several items are available in vegetarian renditions. I particularly liked the basil fried rice, which was spicy and fragrant without being oily; however, steamed rice was more suitable for the pad prik talae (shrimp, squid and vegetable stir-fry) or the chicken in red curry.

Big enough for two, the dessert of mango and coconut cream over sweet rice ($2) was the best bargain, next to the wonderfully tangy green mango salad ($3), a must for mango lovers.

Those who fly by for a fast Thai meal might ask the cook if she has any Laotian specialties on the bill, because with enough queries she just may fix some homemade goodies. In any case, enjoy this little cafe before San Jose State University students, now back from summer break, discover this place for the bargain it is.

Green Mango is located at 457 E. San Carlos St., San Jose (408/271-1915).

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From the Sept. 4-10, 1997 issue of Metro.

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