Zen Zero adds up to thrift
Whether you're talking cool used clothes at Arizona Trading Co. or the $1 shots and 75 cent draws at the Bottleneck, "good and cheap" has gotta be a KU student mantra. But Kansas being Kansas, restaurants and bars can't do happy hours, so the thrifty and the business-minded must shop around for deals.
Zen Zero, 811 Massachusetts, figures nicely into a college kid's budget. The same guys that own La Parrilla across the street - Alejandro Lule and Subarna Bhattachan - own this styling restaurant that's all about noodles and rice. The menu crisscrosses Southeast Asia, from Japan, Tibet, Thailand and Nepal to Vietnam. Prices range from $5.95 to $11.95 for super-size dishes.
It's a straight shot from the front door, past the bar to the open kitchen. The sounds of metal on metal as chefs scrape spatulas around woks are accompanied by the glorious aroma of stir-fried garlic and ginger. Tables are scattered about the front of the space; other tables front the long wall. Images of Buddhist gods, replicas of temples and other icons line the wall. Whether authentically feng shui, the place is inviting, ethnic and offbeat.
The Zen Zero pad Thai ($5.95) is a lively blend of noodles, bean sprouts, peanuts and typical Thai seasonings, like fish sauce and cilantro. It's easy to splurge and spend $2.50 to have the kitchen throw some shrimp in the wok while the chef is cooking the pad Thai.
If you need a bit of warmth from the inside out, order the massaman curry with beef ($8.45). What it lacks in looks it makes up for in flavor. The thick, coconut-based gravy coats big chunks of potatoes and peanuts softened by their time in the sauce. It's filling with enough to pack up for later.
Zen Zero has a short wine and sake list, so here's another tip for the budget-minded: The sake pours are generous. Instead of being served in a petite sake cup or curvaceous bottle, the sake is served in a wine glass. A full glass for the Diamond sake is a bargain at $6.
Zen Zero: 811 Massachusetts, Lawrence, (785) 832-0001. Web site: www.zen-zero.com. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
DAVID PULLIAM/The Kansas City Star