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[whitespace] Cheap Eats

By Loren Stein

Zao Noodle Bar
261 University Ave., Palo Alto
Sun-Thu 11am-10pm; Sat-Sun 11am-11pm
Beer, wine

ZAO NOODLE BAR has the answers to many of life's most pressing questions: I want Asian food, but what kind? I want great food, but where can I get it without putting a dent in my wallet? And where can I get both health and wisdom in a bowl?

The last is the guiding aspiration of Zao Noodle Bar, which offers four distinct Pacific Rim culinary traditions--Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese--complemented with a light California touch. Big steaming bowls filled with noodles and vegetables are accented with chicken, pork, beef, tofu or seafood and spiked with intense, vibrant flavors. Ingredients are always low fat, and the vegetables are crisp and fresh.

The entrees are divided into three main categories: pan-seared noodles and rice, Vietnamese rice noodles, and noodles in broth. The restaurant's fusion philosophy of mixing seemingly incongruent flavors is showcased in specialties such as chicken, kaffir lime leaf, cilantro, carrots, fresh tomatoes and mein noodles coated in a creamy coconut chili lemongrass broth. Or pan-fried wide rice noodles with prawns, tamarind, garlic, shallots, chiles, tofu, egg, bean sprouts, peanuts, scallions and sambal. The menu includes vegetarian dishes, salads and tasty appetizers such as satays and chicken dumplings. And for dessert don't forget the warm banana spring roll with chocolate sauce or coconut ice cream.

Entree prices, while not rock-bottom, are relatively inexpensive and reasonable, ranging from $6.95 to $8.95. The restaurant's atmosphere is hip, casual and stylish. The space is relatively small and narrow, but airy with high ceilings, an open kitchen, lightly stained wood tables and chairs, exposed concrete walls and abstract art. Beverages include Thai iced tea, sake, beer, wine, sake-based cocktails, Vietnamese coffee and specially blended full-leaf teas.

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From the October 31-November 6, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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