Make Room for the Pandan Room

Enjoy today’s restaurant visit by contributor Suzanne Zimmer Lowery. I’ll be back Monday.—Andrea Clurfeld

The Pandan Room is just a few steps off Hackettstown’s Main Street, but it might as well be a world away. Situated in a little house, it bustles with customers enjoying a range of Thai and Indonesian specialties prepared by chef Jay Chai, who also owns the nearby Vietnamese restaurant, Topo.

Pandan’s cheerful orange and purple dining room, lined with windows, is as vibrant as its dishes. These feature an array of fresh fruits and vegetables brightened with the classic herbs and spices of Southeast Asia. The chef does not add chili peppers until the last stage of cooking each dish. Servers will ask what level of heat you want, from mild to fiery, and the chef will vary the timing and amount of peppers accordingly.

The Pandam sampler platter at Pandan Room Southeast Asian restaurant in Hackettstown, New Jersey.

Pandan sampler

The service was cheerful and attentive. Our only criticism was that we never received the complimentary rice chips that we saw on other tables. This might have been a blessing in disguise. We ordered the sampler platter, which arrived laden with spring rolls, a crab Rangoon puff, a Brie-filled pastry with hints of orange and nutmeg, a little bowl of creamy chicken and potato curry and a large roti pancake to tear into pieces to scoop it up with. In retrospect, we were glad we hadn’t filled up on chips.

There are red, green and yellow curry dinners, as well as traditional pad Thai noodles. But the grill menu is where Pandan departs from the usual. It features thin and tender pork chops marinated in coriander and molasses, served over rice noodles with a sweet carrot sauce. Another grill item gives you a dozen garlic-and-lime-marinated shrimp on sugarcane skewers, served with cilantro, sesame and duck dipping sauces.

Grilled garlic-and-lime shrimp at Pandan Room Southeast Asian restaurant in Hackettstown, New Jersey.

Grilled garlic-and-lime shrimp

Vietnamese pork chops at Pandan Room Southeast Asian restaurant in Hackettstown, New Jersey.

Vietnamese pork chops

A light meal might begin with one of several interesting soups, followed by a salad such as the one we enjoyed, topped with mango, strawberry, pineapple, cashews and a large basil-flecked crab cake.

Everyone seems to leave toting leftovers. Pandan Room is the kind of place where people intentionally over order to take home a delicious heat-and-eat meal for the next day.

On Sundays, a Dim Sum menu is available at lunchtime.

Chef Chai offers cooking classes for those who’d like to recreate their favorite Pandan dishes at home.

Pandan Room, 100 East Moore Street, Hackettstown, 908-850-5999; pandanroom.com. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 am to 2 pm; dinner, Monday through Sunday 5 to 10 pm.

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