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Jul 13, 2009 07:05 AM

South East Asia, Lowell: Good larb, lousy everything else.

I saw mention of this place on this board, but no threads devoted to it. We headed up to Lowell for a concert on Saturday and decided to check it out, thinking it would be some quick tasty chow. Arrived at 6 to a mostly-empty restaurant and were promptly seated, then ignored for about 10 minutes. A large table behind us left just as we arrived and their dirty dishes remained on the table for the entire hour+ that we were there, contributing to the sub-par vibe of the place. We finally ordered and had hoped to get drinks promptly- no such luck. A family sat down next to us and proceeded to try really hard to remain upbeat while scraping and scrubbing grungy dried food off the high chair they were given using their own diaper wipes.

Half an hour after ordering and forty minutes after arriving (and no food had come out of the kitchen during that time) we were getting antsy about making our show when the food finally arrived. We immediately requested: chopsticks, rice which was supposed to have come with it, hot sauce and the check. The chopsticks arrived promptly. The rice took another 5 mins and was slimy and tan on the edges. The check took a while longer.

So, the good news: the chicken larb was delicious. Deep flavors, beautifully balanced. Really excellent. Unfortunately, the bun we also ordered (can't remember the Lao name) was not great. Noodles were overcooked and conglomerated into a mass. The sauce and spring roll were okay, not great. This veggies and shredded lettuce did not seem fresh. The pork was flavorless- appeared to have been boiled.

Perhaps it was an off night for the kitchen. I wasn't expecting 4 star service or atmosphere, but given that the place was less than half full, I think 40 minutes from sitting til getting our 2 dishes was a bit excessive, and despite the really good larb we won't be back.

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  1. the place does an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch for short money and is very busy during the midday for that. i've never been for dinner. we prefer the noodle place around the corner.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      They had a sign up that their lunch buffet was increasing in cost to $8.95. I did not note a date on the sign. That would probably be the only scenario I'd go back for.

    2. Unfortunately, something really seems to have changed at the SE Asia. I was there several weeks ago for the lunch buffet. It was very disappointing. Just about everything was overcooked - noodles mushy and sticking to one another, vegetables limp and no longer brightly colored. It is true that I arrived around 1 PM or shortly thereafter, but still, what was on the buffet should have been replaced, not served. Even when I arrived, the restaurant was mostly empty. What a change from my first visit, years ago, when the place was humming and the food was so good.

      4 Replies
      1. re: PinchOfSalt

        The original owners sold the place about a year ago.. Could be more than a year ago, haven't been there for a long time.

        1. re: Ferrari328

          That could explain everything. My previous visit was so long ago it must have been before the change in ownership. The difference was truly night-and-day.

          1. re: Ferrari328

            Does anyone know what happened to the original owner? I remember going there multiple times a week when we lived closer and there were only 6 or so tables. The food was phenomenal then, and we were often the only non-immigrants because the locals knew the food was excellent. This was about 20 years ago, though.

        2. bummer. We still enjoy the lunch buffet but make sure to get there around 11 when it starts up. Otherwise its hit/miss on them filling things and stuff gets dried up quick.

          They excel on the really spicy food. Never ate any of the things you ordered though. One of the only asian places i know of that when they say its spicy its eye watering spicy.

          1. FYI - A large portion of SE Asia DOESN'T use chopsticks for most dishes so you are not being "farang" by using a spoon and fork. We certainly haven't used them much while eating in either Laos or Thailand.

            For convenience, we went to the Lowell Beer Works (the July special trout wasn't half-bad). It served the purpose. Wilco was great....even with the rain-out. :D

            1. Next time you are in Lowell be sure to try Tepthida Khmer on Chelmsford St. It is a very, very good Cambodian restaurant. The food is excellent, the place itself is immaculately clean and the wait staff very professional. I can guarantee you will have a much nicer dining experience than one you had at the S.E. Asian.

              1 Reply
              1. re: RoyRon

                Darn- that was our other place under consideration. Shoulda-woulda-coulda.