Pacific cafe is another one of those pan Asian restaurants that have been sprouting up on every corner. This storefront operation is different, however. First of all Pacific Cafe has been in business for years, plus the food doesn't all taste the same. The different cuisines are all distinct, so that diners can truly experience the foods of several nations.
An entire page of the menu is given over to starters, salads, and soups. To begin, share the fresh Spring Rolls or slightly oily Vietnamese Crepe pancake, packed with shrimp, chicken, and veggies, and served with a sweet tangy sauce. In addition to tasty but unremarkable Satay and Edamame, try the Grilled Beef Spring Roll. Thin Rice Paper crepes are filled with lemon Grass Beef, Rice Noodles, Carrots, and Cilantro, and served with a dipping sauce of Plum sauce and ground peanuts.
The Miso Soup is a healthy beginning, or try the Tom Kha Kai, a sweet and spicy soup of chicken, lime leaf, mushroom, and coconut milk. A generous Cucumber Salad also makes for a fresh appetizer.
The long menu is divided in pieces. Many diners stick to the big selection of Sushi. There is a good selection of both cooked and fresh pieces, as well as a long list of maki. In fact, two full menu pages are devoted just to the sushi. There are also giant maki, appetizer and entree choices, and five combination plates.
Vegetarians will find more here than just cucumber and avocado. Shiitake maki is self explanatory, while I prefer the tanginess of Kamyo Maki (a Japanese sweet gourd) and Oshinko Maki (a bright yellow pickled radish). Pacific will also let you combine four vegetables for their Vegetable Maki (carrots, spinach, etc.).
One of the most unusual veggie maki is Ume Shiso maki, which rolls together an Ohba leaf with Umeboshi mint paste.
Entrees are divided between Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese dishes, and then further divided between noodle and non-noodle items. The entrees also allow a choice of meat (beef, chicken or shrimp), vegetables, or tofu. Almost every dish can be made Vegan upon request.
Some of the best include the Vietnamese Mix with Egg Noodles. The crisp noodles are covered with a garlic stir fry mix of bok choy, zucchini, bean sprouts, baby corn, snow peas, broccoli, straw mushrooms, red cabbage, and onions. All in one dish! Pad See Ew is a good variation on the ubiquitous Thai noodle dish. The thick rice noodles are partially soft, and partially stir fried, and crunchy at the ends. Lad nar is, as usual, a bit heavy on the gravy, but the pad Thai is served with an abundance of tofu egg, bean sprouts, lime, and crushed peanuts.
Regular entrees include a terrific (and terrifically unhealthy) Crispy Orange Beef. Slender slices of beef are stir fried to a sweet and chewy tanginess in an orange glaze, that even makes the bed of shredded cabbage underneath, a delicious treat. The Ginger Stir Fry is a spicy mix of shredded ginger, carrots, mushrooms, and onions. The Dynamite Beef has been the only disappointment, with a soy-based sauce that doesn't begin to live up to its name.
While there is a whole section given over to Fried Rice, be sure not to pass up the spicy basil fried rice. Sweet basil—and plenty of it—infuses the rice with a sweet heartiness, and is studded with vegetables.
More traditional Japanese dishes can also be found, like Teriyaki and Tempura, as well as a good selection of Udon soups. If you favor the japanese selections, order one of the Japanese Dinner Combos, which allow you to get a little of everything—even some Maki.
Diners can choose from a small selection of fairly priced wines and beers, or just stick to a Jasmine or Green tea. If you have room, try the fresh and cool Green Tea Ice Cream, the Red Bean Ice cream, or the fried bananas. Served warm, the banana pieces are dipped in tempura batter, fried, then served with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
The single room is staffed by two or three servers, who are laid back and casual, but don't forget your order, and can answer even the most intricate questions. Special orders are also accommodated with a refreshing pleasant ease. You can usually get a table with no wait at this seat yourself establishment, which features an eclectic mix of diners, music, and local art on the orange walls, which almost feel more suited to a Southwest-themed restaurant.
Pacific Cafe can be found at 1619 N. Damen, just north of the North, Damen, and Milwaukee Avenues intersection. Delivery calls are taken between 5:30 p.m. and ten minutes prior to closing. Orders will be delivered North to Diversey, South to Erie, East to Racine, and West to Kedzie. Call 773-PACIFIC. Pacific cafe is open every day.
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