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[Photographs: Lindsey Howald Patton]

I moved to the Lincoln Square area two years ago and slid straight into an Opart Thai House food rut where I feasted on one dish that refused to get old: the heavenly coconut milk-and-green-curry dish called gaeng keow waan.

But with summer finally upon us, I am seizing the warming moment to pry my own fingers from that ultra-rich, steaming-hot dish. If a time of year to subsist on cool, refreshing salads exists, we're heading into it right now. I wanted to see what this busy Thai BYOB had to offer.

I tried four of Opart Thai's ten salad offerings, hitting a range of sauces and proteins and experimenting with spiciness levels.

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Of them all, the most satisfyingly summery was the chicken naem sod ($7.59). You had crunchy slivers of fresh, spicy ginger; steamed ground chicken of good quality; fragrant cilantro; thinly-sliced chili; and a few toasted peanuts for crunch. It was all dressed with plenty of fish sauce and lime juice. That, plus the ginger, herbs and a nice spicy kick at the end (if you ask for medium spiciness or above), makes it my new choice for lakefront picnic takeout.

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The neau num tok ($7.99) was equally delicious, although admittedly the least salad-like of them all. It's essentially a small pile of beef, dotted with scallion bits and slices of red onion, with a rather artistic wedge of iceberg lettuce nestled alongside. No one minded—this was the first dish at the table to disappear. The beef is thinly sliced, wonderfully tender, and dusted with toasted rice powder. Uninterrupted by spice in this case at the mild level, the beef was super flavorful, holding its own alongside the salty fish sauce and lime dressing.

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The pla koong ($8.99) was similarly protein-focused. Juicy charbroiled tail-on shrimp were served atop a large piece of leaf lettuce, which I used to shamelessly sop up all of the shrimpy dressing at the end. I tend to avoid that red, sticky sauce we call sweet and sour, so was a little suspicious of what Opart's menu called "Thai hot and sour." But this was fine homemade stuff, with a savory umami depth. I would definitely order this again.

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The som tum ($7.59) is only one of two with vegetables as its main ingredient. Consisting of julienned green papaya and a couple of tomato wedges sprinkled with tiny dried shrimp and fried peanuts, this salad had the least drama. The papaya was a bit tough and lacking in flavor, while the dressing was quite sweet. While that was somewhat tempered by spice, the salad could have used a salty-tart component to balance it all out.

Opart Thai House

4658 North Western Avenue (map)
773-989-8517
opartthai.com

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