Lime leaf, “almost” burnt chilies, fish sauce, toasted coconut, palm sugar, sweet basil, turmeric, sambal belecan, anchovy broth, mint, coriander, shrimp paste: These are but a smattering of the wonderful words that make up the menu at Kedai Makan. If you love Asian street-stall food, particularly of the underrepresented Malaysian variety, you’ve spent time hanging out on Broadway on Capitol Hill, waiting for your order of stuffed rotis to be handed, steaming, through the tiny takeout window of its former incarnation. For those who haven’t experienced this, or haven’t been following culinary news, Kedai Makan has gone from takeout only to a full-fledged restaurant with plenty of seating and a separate bar area—and that’s truly cause for celebration.
When owners Kevin Burzell and Alysson Wilson (who are not in fact Malaysian) opened the new space on Bellevue Avenue, they could have easily coasted on a menu with taste-tested hits. Instead they’ve scrapped most of the original offerings; only three, including nasi goreng (Malaysian fried rice), kerabu timum (a salad, described below), and house-pickled greens remain. According to our server, the owners just couldn’t help themselves from going wild in a full kitchen—and that’s great news for diners. The menu features noodle and rice dishes, a couple of rotis (with lamb curry or pork), salads, and entrees like the dynamite whole mackerel stuffed with rempah (chili paste, lemongrass, and galangal) and topped with a bean-sprout salad. The fish is crispy and explodes with flavor (a steal at $15) but may not be on the menu when you visit, as they change items frequently. If it’s not, please ask for it. I aim to create a groundswell of demand in the hope that I may relish it once more.
The kerabu timun isn’t a bad consolation prize, though. This salad of pineapple, cucumber, red onions, and peanuts, blasted with fish sauce, kersik (toasted coconut), and sweet basil, manages to be utterly refreshing even while it’s tingling your taste buds. The noodles (mee) range from a flat flour-rice variety to a hand-torn, pinched-wheat style and come with myriad toppings. I opted for the chili pan mee: wheat noodles tossed with ground pork, soy, green onions, poached egg, fried shallots, and fried anchovies. It’s reminiscent of Chinese mapo dofu, the pork and tofu creating a similarly stew-like effect, albeit with a briny bite. This is Malaysian comfort food, but full-bodied and flavorful, like everything else here. These noodles, in particular, come with a side of broth to sip; savory and slightly medicinal, it’s a lovely palate-cleanser. I’m told this dish will appear often.
Speaking of medicinal, Kedai Makan has curated a bar menu with cocktails featuring ingredients like chrysanthemum tea, bitter melon vodka, and Thai chili tequila tamarind paste, plus four corn-based liquor shots infused with Chinese herbs like red ginseng, eucommia bark, and wolfberry. Not sure what some of the ingredients are? Ask or order based on category: Libido, Strength and Stamina, Longevity, Health. These concoctions soak in huge glass containers above the bar, a small but inviting square braced by beautiful carved wooden pillars strung with small paper lanterns. Elsewhere throughout the L-shaped restaurant, painted an arresting teal, are black-and-white photos of rural and city life in southeast Asia. It’s noisy and full, but somehow also cozy. And while the menu can be challenging—even the descriptions could use descriptions—our server patiently, cheerily provided expert information on our every question about a Malaysian term or obscure ingredient.
This is the best Asian food I’ve had all year, and is sure to become my go-to when I’m not out reviewing other restaurants. Plus, I need to come back for dessert (the large, shareable portions left me stuffed and hauling home leftovers). Otherwise how could I possibly have passed up a shake made with fresh coconut, Full Tilt coconut ice cream, and dark rum?