When late-night munchies or curl-up-on-the-couch movie nights call for paper cartons and wooden chopsticks, head to Luc Thang. This unassuming storefront is often overlooked in favor of showier pan-Asian kitchens to the west and south, but its bevy of tasty options, minus the crowds and premium price tags, is worth a second glance.
The menu is mainly Thai, with a handful of Vietnamese dishes (like grilled beef with mint or the pork-and-shrimp-packed crepe) and Chinese standbys thrown in. On the lighter side, meal-size portions of spicy somtum (green papaya) salad or tofu spring rolls with plummy gravy weigh in at less than $4. Khai yad sai (veggie-stuffed omelet) and pad keemau are good options, but if you're feeling gutsy, go for deep-fried snapper, served spicy or sweet-and-sour ($16). And don't miss what might be one of Chicago's best drink deals: Huge, milky smoothies made with fresh tropical fruits like guanabana are only $1.50.
The busiest hours are between 11 a.m.-3 p.m., when the "Lunch Special" combo is offered for $5.50. A few diners stick around, and if you go this route, you'll get solid service and, miraculously, almost no noise from the Ashland traffic. But the atmosphere is a lot like dining in someone's kitchen...you'll hear the phone ringing, and the soft speakers overhead are often tuned to talk radio. Luckily, Luc Thang delivers for a mere $1.75. BYOB.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Julia Steinberger