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Malaysian sensation

Little Malaysia offers an authentic no-frills experience


There's always some new restaurant to discover along Buford Highway -- which means that sometimes the older ones get overlooked. Case in point: I've been enjoying pho, dim sum and Korean barbecue at the Asian Square shopping center for years without ever noticing Little Malaysia. Granted, Penang packs a tasty wallop just a few blocks away, but Little Malaysia's curries, soups and noodles are not to be missed. Lacking the faux-tiki look of its neighbor, the restaurant is a spare hole-in-the-wall with fluorescent lighting, a few shabby tables and a threadbare carpet. It's not going to win any awards for ambience, but what comes out of the kitchen is really all that matters.

The measuring stick: Beef rendang is a good measuring stick for any Malaysian restaurant -- and at Little Malaysia, it's irresistible. The slow-cooked beef ($7.95) with spicy brown sauce and coconut flakes melts in your mouth.

Rings of gold: Anyone impressed by the beef should be overwhelmed by the baked and salted squid ($7.75), a main course of lightly sauteed and baked calamari rings encrusted with salt-and-pepper powder. After it's gone, you'll want to order another plate. But save room for other standouts.

I eat paste: The belacan-style okra ($6.25) with shrimp paste (called lady fingers for the pointed, finger-like shape of the okra) is a must. (Anything with shrimp paste is a must as far as I'm concerned.) There's also a belacan string bean plate ($6.25) and belacan prawns (market price).

Bowled over: We split the curry noodle soup bowl ($5.95) between three of us and still had plenty left over. But it may not appeal to all: The coconut, curry and chicken mixture includes chopped dark meat with plenty of bone. That means a lot of sucking, slurping and spitting -- not pretty, but worth it for the mix of hot spices and cool coconut.

Service: Like the environment, the service is no-frills. It's quick and it's prompt, but there's no chumminess.

Cheapest item: Most everything is priced from $5-$8, but a list of eight soups-for-two are priced from $3.50-$5.50, including tom yum, fish ball, wonton and bitter melon. Don't be confused; it's still lots of soup.

Most expensive item: Seafood can run a pretty penny, but most customers won't be scrambling for the curry fish head ($12.95) or braised fish head ($12.95), both served in clay pots. The head is deep-fried and mixed with vegetables and spices. Other fish dishes are market price (and lacking heads).

Coco, loco?: After your tongue gets a spice-spanking, cool it off the tropical way: Order a whole coconut with the top sliced off and a straw for easy drinking ($2.50).

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