Frequent readers of this site may know that Serious Eats: Chicago editor Nick Kindelsperger and I just put the finishing touches on a lengthy survey of Chicago's pad Thai landscape. It was not without its rocky patches, to be frank. And by rocky I mean clunky and cloying. Truly transcendent noodles proved to be more often the exception than the rule. So it was with perhaps unduly high expectations that I ventured over to Anna's Asian Bistro for lunch recently; I needed a bowl of noodles that would restore a small but meaningful measure of lost faith in Southeast Asian (by way of America) cuisine.
Anna's kitchen is operated by mother-daughter team who ventured off on their own after leaving Thalia Spice. The West Loop space has its more elegant touches, like velvety banquettes with soft pillows, but also more casual leanings, such as butcher paper lining the tabletops. From the extensive selection of of options, I went with the Laotian curry noodle ($9.95), off the list of "signature" dishes. The description was simple yet somehow incredibly inviting: rice noodles with shredded chicken simmered in red curry. After all that syrupy pad Thai sauce, I was evidently hankering for a broth as velvety as Anna's supple upholstery.
This bowl did not let me down. It was a beautiful curry, with a mild coconut-driven sweetness, hints of ginger, and a pronounced yet mellow heat. I picked up welcome signs of Thai basil, onion, and cilantro. Texturally, the curry broth was light—neither too milky from the coconut nor too greasy from the float of chile oil.
The shredded chicken was plentiful, as were the rice noodles. At first I thought the noodles were a bit far gone, but their softer bite quickly grew on me. Their plump, easy-chewing texture seemed to work perfectly amid the delicate flavors of the soup. Besides the trifecta of broth, noodles and chicken, not much more here to report upon. I occasionally came across some shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and carrots. Not that I'm complaining; the veggies were mere bit players on a stage stolen by much more seasoned performers.
When I reached the bottom of the bowl, I found my belly full and my faith renewed.