Mummies, Crack, & Buddha Ruksa

Who knew noodles and chicken could be so lethally delicious?

Buddha Ruksa is located just off the corner of Fauntleroy Way Southwest and Southwest Genesee Street in West Seattle, in a squat building that's green, tiny, and difficult to find—like a leprechaun. We noticed two things: hordes of poor suckers waiting for a table, and a pristine, orderly Arlington Cemetery of to-go orders, boxes stacked and tied up in white plastic grocery bags and arranged in neat rows on the counter. They check each order as they bag it, and with an employee's hands tying up the ghostly white bags, it looks just like the cover of Metallica's Master of Puppets. I was shrewd enough to get a reservation, so we were whisked to our table. It's a tight squeeze inside, and the close, brooding, carved-wood paneling doesn't add any sense of airiness. The more charitable would call it intimate and cozy, but so is a coffin. It's also usually pretty noisy inside, but none of that really matters because the service is amazing. An order of the fresh salad rolls was delivered to the table in a picosecond. For this price we got two gigantic rolls, cut crosswise in half and stuffed with a leafy bale of shredded iceberg lettuce, a couple of mint leaves, and some glass noodles. Running through the center is a core of crisp cucumber. They are wrapped in rice-noodle wrappers so translucent you can't really look directly at the fresh salad rolls, because they are invisible. They just shimmer and distort the background like the Predator, and are served with a bowl of very sweet peanut sauce. The rolls were so refreshing and green that each bite was like taking a bath in an ice-cold spring, the culinary equivalent of Irish Spring soap. Unfortunately they tended to be a bit bland: Salad rolls usually include shrimp or tofu to add a savory note, but Buddha Ruksa's don't, so you really need the peanut sauce. Allow me to practice my best smug Tom Colicchio imitation: "This dish was just begging for a protein." Note to Tom Colicchio: Please stop saying the word "protein." Bags of gold were better, though I was forced to resist the urge to make crude jokes referencing my own "bag of gold." A rough paste of diced shrimp, chicken, and water chestnuts is wrapped in a wonton wrapper, tied with a length of scallion, and deep-fried to the eponymous color. These were very tasty, though the top part of the "bag," where the "fabric" was gathered and tied, was devoid of any meat and just tasted like fried paper. Phad see iew with chicken was perfectly executed. This dish, wide rice noodles stir-fried with broccoli, chicken, scrambled egg, and two kinds of soy sauce, is the perfect hangover cure. Sometimes I just want to wrap myself in those noodles instead of eating them, and take a nap. In fact, when I die I want to be mummified with phad see iew noodles, instead of linen bandages or whatever the Egyptians used. When I inevitably come back from the grave to act out my terrible curse, I'll be the most delicious monster ever! Anyway, Buddha Ruksa does a fine version of this classic. We got a huge pile of slippery rice noodles, tinted a savory brown from the soy sauce. Every now and then we encountered a charred piece of noodle, smoky and crisp from where the sweet soy sauce started to caramelize. The slabs of chicken breast, which in less awesome iterations of this dish tend to be dry, were juicy and tender. And the broccoli was a shocking, confident green, as verdant as a walk in the park. Yellow curry is thick and enriched with lots of coconut milk. It's a vibrant canary yellow, with a satin finish. The broth tasted fine, but the chunks of potato were a bit undercooked, and there were only three pieces of chicken in the entire bowl. The spicy long bean was similarly not as good as it should have been. The beans are lightly stir-fried in a spicy garlic sauce, but the sauce is overpowered with way too much lemongrass. It tasted like hand soap. The beef was for the most part very tender, and still a bit pink inside, but now and then I was interrupted when I was trying to look cool by having to pull a stringy thread of unchewable sinew from my mouth. At this point I'd like to pause and emphasize how superior the service is at Buddha Ruksa. These dishes came flying out of the kitchen, one after another in instantaneous succession, like shurikens. In fact, the service was so quick and stealthy that you might think Buddha Ruksa is staffed by ninjas. The crispy garlic chicken was as delicious as the service is swift. Fans of Buddha Ruksa know this dish by its street name, "crack chicken." It lived up to the hype: Slices of chicken breast, coated in a light batter, are deep-fried and coated with a sweet, spicy, and very garlicky sauce. Diced red bell peppers and fried basil leaves complete this perfect photograph of deliciousness. One of the most charming aspects of the crispy garlic chicken is the little bits of fried batter that fall off the chicken; they stand alone, drenched in sauce, intermittently crunching in your mouth like croutons. Or maybe crack rocks. As its nickname suggests, it's so addictive you could probably blame a 48-hour romp with hookers on eating the crispy garlic chicken. The wonton phad thai was interesting, and by "interesting" I'm not being passive-aggressive and condescending, like when you describe an untalented child's violin recital as "interesting." When I talk about the wonton phad thai I actually mean "unusual and good." It's like regular phad thai except that it doesn't have the main ingredient: noodles. Instead you get a plate consisting mostly of bean sprouts, with some prawns, and the folded fried wontons, filled with a mixture of ground shrimp and chicken. The wontons tasted great, but looked ugly: Shriveled and fried to a dark brown, they look like your ear would if a heavyweight boxer punched the hell out of it. All in all, the wonton phad thai was very airy. The waitress explained that it's a summer dish; eaten in Thailand's punishing sun, it doesn't make you as groggy as a huge plate of carbs would. I've never seen this dish anywhere else in Seattle, but it's very tasty. If there's anything I object to, it's the sauce: While it's identical to the usual phad thai sauce, there are no noodles to soak it up, so it ends up being too thin and running amok all over the plate. We finished things off with the black rice pudding. Like black beans, Black Friday, and blacksmiths, the rice isn't really black—it's maroon. It's served in a martini glass, topped with a puddle of coconut milk and garnished with a mint sprig. The rice pudding itself is a sickly sweet morass, but the coconut milk luckily mutes the sugary bomb, bringing it down from a Jolt Cola level of sweetness to the more manageable glycemic index of a lollipop. Buddha Ruksa is remarkably delicious and affordable, one of the premier Thai restaurants in a city full of them. The crack chicken is so good I'd come back from the dead to get it, which I suppose is what will have to happen once I'm mummified in phad see iew. Price Guide Fresh salad rolls: $4.95 Bags of gold: $7.95 Phad see iew: $9.50 Yellow curry: $9.95 Spicy long bean: $10.95 Crispy garlic chicken: $10.95 Wonton phad thai: $11.95 Black rice pudding: $3.95  

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