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Dakzen Introduces Casual Thai Street Cuisine to Somerville

Dakzen is a Thai restaurant located near Davis Square in Somerville.
Dakzen is a Thai restaurant located near Davis Square in Somerville.
By Jenna X. Bao, Contributing Writer

Dakzen, a new Thai restaurant in Somerville, aims to present the tastes and textures of authentic modern street food. The location is small and casual with only a handful of tightly packed tables. Diners are handed paper menus on clipboards upon arrival and order at the counter when they are ready. The bright yellow color scheme and the chopsticks-wielding hungry monster mascot (the universal spirit animal) contribute to a youthful and vibrant energy.

The restaurant’s name breaks down to “dak,” a term used to describe enjoying food so much that “eating” is not sufficient to describe the experience, and “zen,” meaning noodles. True to its name, noodles are at the heart of Dakzen. The soft opening menu features an array of street noodles, including “khao soi,” one of their specials. As with any soup noodle, the key is the broth, simmered on low for four to five hours to develop a creamy and complex blend of traditional Thai flavors — sweet coconut and umami bone broth cut with a consistent yet subtle spice.

This dish is also made unique by the mix of boiled wide egg noodles and crispy fried egg noodles. With a bit of both in each bite, each mouthful has a unique texture. The dish comes together with tender shredded chicken, pickled mustard greens, raw red onion, scallions, and a soft boiled egg. (Beware, the onion does come on strong.)

The khao soi is Dakzen at its best, but some of their other dishes do not quite live up to it. This includes the “hoi joh,” crab croquettes wrapped in fried tofu skin. The taste is reminiscent of pork meatballs — seasoned, but with minimal complexity. The flavor primarily comes from a sweet and sour sauce on the side. Crisp tofu skin lends itself well to the twist on a croquette, with water chestnut in the filling to diversify the texture even more, yet the end result does not amount to much more than a generic spring roll.

The “khao grapow” also stumbles in its execution. This dish is another of Dakzen’s specials: Spicy fried rice dish with minced meat and oyster sauce. While it comes with a choice of several meats or tofu, the menu recommends crispy pork belly and the addition of a fried egg. I took their advice.

Pork belly is by far the most interesting element of the dish. Some bites are chunks of pure delight with a hefty ratio of crispiness to chewiness and crackling bursts of flavor, but others are overcooked to the point of becoming tough and dry. Each piece is different, and this inconsistency makes the dish a gamble. The meat and white rice are bathed in a thick and savory oyster sauce with a spice that kicks you in the throat and is best tamed with rich Thai iced tea. The heat is to be anticipated, as the menu does have a warning of two whole chili pepper symbols with this dish. Overall, the khao grapow gave the impression that it had definite potential, but with its overcooked egg and inconsistent pork belly, it did not hit the mark.

All in all, Dakzen is a solid and affordable place to take a chance on new Thai cuisine. While there are some more familiar options like pad thai and tom yum soup, the menu and mission of the restaurant encourage culinary adventure. But to make the most of the experience, I would recommend heeding the name and choosing their noodles when deciding what to “dak.”

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