Everyday Eats: Panang Curry at Sab-E-Lee
This Best Restaurants pick makes a mean panang curry.
Panang Curry: $7.95
2405 Ulric St., Linda Vista (2nd location in Santee)
Let's face it, often the three most important parts of the day are breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And that's why here at SanDiegoMagazine.com, we're beefing up our food and restaurant coverage by shining the spotlight on tasty meals under $10. Foie gras and Kobe beef still have a place at our table, but these meals are so reasonably priced, you can eat them every day.
When you're looking to eat on a budget, often the best thing to do is go ethnic. With a little bit of research, you can find a gem where just about everything on the menu falls comfortably within the $10 Everyday Eats cut-off. Sab-E-Lee is that place: the tiny Thai eatery is tucked away in a dated plaza in Linda Vista, and very few items are more than $10. It was also named "best Thai restaurant" in the 2011 Best Restaurants issue.
Panang curry is my go-to, and Sab-E-Lee spices it up right. The curry is silky, rich, and thick -- more like a spicy gravy than a watery sauce. Panang is traditionally the least spicy of the Thai curries, and this one is a bit sweet, with creamy undertones of coconut throughout. It comes with a few diced veggies for crunch, and your choice of protein (pork, chicken, or tofu). Shrimp or mixed seafood will cost you a bit extra. Grab an order of steamed white rice ($1.50) and get to ladling that spicy broth over it.
Curries can be made on a spicy scale from 1-10. There's an amusing guide to the various levels of spice posted on the wall with illustrations of people with flames shooting out of their mouth at the higher end, which definitely wasn't what I was going for. I find that spice level 3 is just about perfect. It's "Thai Medium" (or "American Spicy").
It's always wise to order some Thai iced tea or iced coffee, made with sweet condensed milk as an insurance policy against too much spice. The sweet, dairy-rich beverage coats your tongue and neutralizes the heat much better than water. Plus, it's sweet enough to count as dessert.