Monday, November 17, 2014

Great Thai food in a familiar -- but worn -- setting close to home

At Wondee's in Hackensack, Pla Ning is a steamed whole fish smothered in mushrooms, ginger, celery, onion and pickled mustard greens, all served on a hot plate ($18).


The dining room at Wondee's in Hackensack got a little fresh paint this summer, but other problems with the dated decor remain at what I consider the best Thai restaurant in North Jersey.

Chef Wandee Suwangbutra is still at the top of her game, as the great food shows, and her prices can't be beat. 

Wondee's charges $18 for a whole fish that would cost well north of $20 anywhere else.

Down the street at Bangkok Garden Thai Restaurant, a whole fish is listed online for $28.95. 

Wondee's is a BYO, Bangkok Thai has a liquor license. 

My favorite seafood dish at Wondee's is Ocean of Garlic ($18). The beautifully fried shrimp, squid, scallops and mussels are tender, grease-less and studded with garlic. Cutting the richness of the dish is a crunchy salad of pickled cabbage and carrots, and there is lettuce for wrapping the seafood, if that's how you want to eat it.

Torn carpet, uneven floor

On Saturday night, we were seated at a table on the raised floor, which apparently covers pipes, near the kitchen doors.

I had to be careful in placing my chair's rear legs away from a ramp that meets the floor in the front part of the dining room.

The dining room is clean, but the carpet is torn in places and patched with tape, and I noticed that one of the seats at a table across the way was stained.

Loyal customers who use the rear parking lot know enough to step up onto the raised floor when they enter and down when they leave.

Wandee rents the space she calls Wondee's (she spells her name with an "a").

Then food arrived

But when the food began to arrive, I stopped thinking about the decor, poured the Guinness Draught I brought with me and dug in.

First, I enjoyed a bracing soup with chili paste, lemon juice, mushrooms and crunchy shrimp called Thome Yum Koong.

My entree was Ocean of Garlic, which has become my favorite seafood dish at Wondee's.

Other members of the family had wonton soup, and shared a whole sea bass and Pineapple Fried Rice.

Pineapple Fried Rice includes shrimp, chicken and Thai sausage ($11).

I used a spoon to bring up shrimp and mushrooms from Thome Yum Koong, a spicy soup made with lemon juice, chili paste, kaffir lime leaves, galanga and lemongrass ($4 for a small bowl).

The meat eaters in the family always order Geuw Nam or wonton soup with roasted pork and vegetables ($3.50).

Wondee's Fine Thai Food and Noodles, 296 Main St., Hackensack; 201-883-1700. BYO, parking lot in rear. Closed Mondays, no delivery.

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