The $7.75 Lunch Special at Aroy Thai
The folks who work up in the office parks of Ravenswood have a pretty enviable neighborhood lunch playground. I imagine most groups usually head out for dim sum in Little Saigon, but a cozy Thai spot in the other direction has a generous lunch special to lure them in.
From 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekdays only, you can go Aroy Thai and pay a flat $7.75 for a lot of food. You'll start off with small portion of an appetizer, choosing from a handful of the old trusties like a cabbage-filled fried egg roll or crab rangoon. I went with a solid take on the spring roll, swaddled in smooth rice paper and sitting in a shallow pond of tamarind sauce. The traditional tofu, rice noodle, carrot, and cucumber combination was perfectly chewy, crunchy, tender, herbal and sweet: no complaints here.
For the main course there are options from the regular menu aplenty, from major noodle dishes to a few curries and stir-fried mains.
The pad kee mao—a Chinese-fusion dish perhaps better known by its incongruous other title, drunken noodles—is amazing here. Its broad rice noodles are the best part, earthen-colored with a slightly sweet blend of soy sauce, miso, and fish sauce. I've always favored those ribbon-like noodles for how they play nice with the rest of the bite-sized stuff on the plate. (There's nothing worse than eating all of your veggies first because they had floated to the top of the pile, and then you're left with nothing but vermicelli.) The tofu (chicken, beef, and pork are also options) came in nicely seared, flattened cubes still moist inside; and the plentiful wilted Chinese broccoli leaves are slicked with sauce, tidbits of basil, and doodles of egg.
The only down side of the dish is that it was a little timid with the spice, even with the few chunks of rough-chopped green chilis I found. But it makes sense, I guess: after eating this, you're already going to wish you could sneak a nap in before going back to the office. You probably don't need the added temptation to wash it down with a beer.