The Chalawan [Porter Square, Cambridge]

Had a birthday dinner here last week that I’ve been meaning to write up. Actually, it was a birthday dinner for our sprout- I know, we convinced a 9 year old to try a brand new southeast asian eatery for her birthday. The kid rocks; what can I say?

Anyways, we loved this place. It’s in the old Pho House space on Mass Ave near Bagelsaurus and the Clog shop. They’ve redone the space and it’s quite fancy-schmancy. The sprouts really loved the shiny gold and silver water cups. The mocktail menu is extensive, and we let the birthday girl pick her whole own drink- the lemony sour housemade soda which was delicious.

We shared the app with the betel leaf which reminds me of the miang kum (sp?) at the late Khao Sarn. The waitress encouraged us to get a couple of the scallop app as well, which is a one bite in a spoon kind of dish. It’s the one bite that reviewers have been raving about, apparently, and I can see why. Personally, my favorite app was the soft shell crabs which were a generous portion of 5 or 6 small lightly fried crabs with a nuoc cham dipping sauce that I could have drank with a straw. (Straws by the way are metal. Yay!)

We were a little unsure looking at the menu online what the sprouts would eat, but it turns out they have a kids menu! Usually, this is the kiss of death for a place IMO but hallelujah, this is no dumbed down chicken nuggets and mac. There was a kids portion of chicken fried rice which is mostly Indonesian in flavors, and which I would absolutely be happy to eat as an adult, and our other sprout got a kids chicken wings with rice on the side. The children’s food was absolutely delicious, although a bit pricey at $12 per portion. We later found out it includes a scoop of ice cream, which mitigates somewhat.

For mains, we tried the Singapore pepper beef at the recommendation of the waiter, and a duck curry. Both good, although the beef dish was heavy on large pieces of still-crunchy onions which is not something I prefer. The duck was tender shreds, very flavorful, in a moderately spicy curry.

Rice is ordered per person ($2) and they come around and spoon more onto your plate whenever you run low. We also ordered a side of Asian greens- they were unable to tell us what green we were getting, and it turned out to be baby bok choi. Unfortunately, this was a miss for me as bok choi often is- too watery, no flavor.

We’ll certainly return- there are salads I want to try that we ran out of room for, as well as the whole fish that looked amazing. My favorite dishes were the apps and the kids dishes, honestly. We might skip the entrees and just order a ton of other plates. I hope they do well- the service was excellent. I like the availability of a higher-end Asian restaurant- just be prepared, the bill will reflect a special occasion dinner.


I went here a few weeks back too but never wrote it up. I liked it a fair bit, too. There’s some interesting stuff on the menu.

It’s a very intriguing place, and I’m glad to hear that it lives up to its promise. I have to try it, although it seems on the expensive side. In that sense it’s a step down for me from the old Tamarind House, a staple of ours for years (you had to “order right” though) and the shorter lived Pho.

It’s only open for dinner on weekdays (plus lunch on weekends). I must bemoan again this limited-hours trend. (I also don’t understand the economics, but l know even less about money than I know about other things.) I like places with long hours – places that will still heed me, places that will still feed me when it’s 3 o’clock.


We tried Chalawan recently and also enjoyed it, although I felt that much of what we ordered was on the sweet side. That might have been our ordering though: we had the betel leaf appetizer, snapper dumplings (in a sweet-ish sauce), Szechuan eggplant, and Singapore chili tofu (off the vegetarian menu, which we had to ask for).

We had a hard time deciding what to order, as so much of the menu sounded good, so we’ll probably be back at some point to try some different things.


I’ve finally eaten Chalawan food, although based on

@Parsnipity seems to have suffered a recent disappointment here.

But they had soft-shell crab on the menu, and I was in the mood. It was a let down, because it had been hacked into many pieces, resulting in lots of crunch, but only fleeting hints of crab. I had two pieces of the chicken in betel leaf appetizer, with very robust betel leaves and relatively mild chicken. The most recent other version I’ve had was at Uncle Boon’s Sister in NYC and it was much better. The best dish was the scallop appetizer, with green chiles, lime, slivers of ginger, etc. The scallops were very tender although they did tiptoe a little close to mush.

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I really like this place, and am gratified based on a couple of post-covid visits that it has held up through the lockdown. I reviewed it (pre-Covid) for


What have you had recently that you’ve liked?

(Incidentally, the link you provided to your 2019 review simply took me to the landing page – a common device – but a further search for “Chalawan” on the site produced your review.)

The link MC-Slim provided took me right to his Chalawan review. Just tried it again, same result.

It didn’t for me the first time (and I had to search, as I said), but now it did. Odd!

Sorry to obsess over a small point, but that’s my nature: There are two separate links in @MC-Slim-JB post, one on either side of the colon. If you click on the one on the left you go to, and if you click on the right you get to the review. Probably obvious to everybody, but me.

It’s been a couple of months since my last visit, so I had to dig into my photo archive to jog my memory, but a few I’ve had post-covid and liked: snapper dumplings, lang kwai calamari, the composed oyster, chicken betel leaf, gado-gado salad (simple and fresh, as it should be), the duck salad (so good we got a second order of it one night), Burmese pork-belly curry, beef cheek rendang (clever substitution on the protein), Aceh chicken, the roti canai as a sop for sauces, the black sticky-rice dessert.

Haven’t had a stinker here, but for first-timers, I would focus on the small plates at the top of the menu, which are often beautiful and nicely represent the chef’s facility with Southeast Asian flavors beyond his Thai roots. That’s a rare thing: most places that do, say, the now-common spread of Thai and Japanese and Chinese dishes aren’t especially good at any of them. I can’t think of another place in Greater Boston that matches Chef Amatawate’s confidence and flair with Indonesian dishes, for example.

As with many restaurants, the Covid-era addition of a pleasant patio is a plus when the weather is good: I do love dining out-of-doors. But I also think the indoor space has a lovely, serene vibe. I particularly liked its Yuletide addition of copious twinkly lights and a pretty Xmas tree in the corner. Add service that patiently understands that most diners will be confused by the many unfamiliar ingredients and terms on the menu, and this place hits all my old Chowhound buttons.


Thanks. Very useful.

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