Hot Basil lunch combo to go from Yummy Thai
A weekly notebook about food during the Covid-19 shutdown. Remember, if you’re dining out, doing takeout or getting delivery, the people serving up the food are part of the front line; keep it in mind when tipping.
Since Pho House morphed in to the glorious upscale nouvelle Chinese eatery Chalawan, I’ve been searching for solidly traditional Thai food. Cho Cho’s in Lesley’s Porter Square University Hall has solid pad thai, but when I go to the Korean eatery I’m there for the excellent japchae, bibimbap or chicken katsu. I also love Dakzen’s spicy Thai street food in Somerville’s Davis Square for its angry coconut curry bowls. But for your basic pad thai, pad see ew and chicken satay, Yummy Thai on Massachusetts Avenue in North Cambridge has been on my radar quite a bit as of late, mostly for its generous lunch comb boxes – and when I say generous I mean dinner-portion generous. They run roughly $13, and for that you get classic pad thai, pad see ew, drunken noodles or other traditional Thai dishes with your choice of protein, a side of crispy spring rolls, fried gyoza or chicken wings. If you reach a certain order amount, you get free extras such as Thai ice tea (like a bubble tea without the taro bubbles). I was impressed by Yummy’s pad thai, succulent slender-cut noodles with just the right consistency and amount of tamarind paste and fish sauce. But the dish that has me coming back is the Hot Basil. It’s a grapao, with proteins (often ground) stir-fried in spicy oil with basil, peppers and onion; it comes with rice to offset the oil and spice, though I am happy eating it as is, at 2 and 3 on a spiciness scale that goes up to a 5. (I found 2 too plain and 3 about right. I may venture a 4.) I’ve had the grapao only in its chicken form, but am interested in trying the tofu because I think it would be similar to mapo tofu, one of my favorite spicy Chinese dishes.
Yummy Thai’s website is a bit old-school, with an HTML 1.0 vibe, but pretty easy to use, and pickup at the restaurant is seamless and safe: Your food is packed up snug in a to-go bag with your name on it (well, it’s attached to the paper bag inside the plastic happy face bag, so you have to peer in) so you can just grab and go to enjoy some generous Thai spiciness. Beside the Hot Basil with tofu, I know I’ll be back because my daughter put her stamp of approval on the satay – can’t be too juicy or too stringy, it’s got to be right in the middle – and a one-stop family win is important.
Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.