Overall impression: Noodle bars are popping up across South Florida, and if you're looking for an introduction to what Asian chefs can do with simple noodles, you'll do no better than Kin, open since March . Owner Ben Pankhao is originally from Thailand, so Thai flavors figure prominently here. But Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese are also on the menu.
Background: For seven years, Pankhao lived in Chicago, where he still owns a Thai/sushi restaurant. He came to Boca for the weather. When I asked him why he called his restaurant Kin, he told me it's because the word has three meanings in three languages. "In Thai, it means eat. In Japanese, it means gold, and in English, it means family," he said.
Ambience: Set in what has been a succession of restaurants over the past few years — the Lodge Beer and Grill, and Boca Burger Bar — Kin is a comfortable neighborhood spot that's just as much bar as restaurant. You walk into a bar room set with stools. The perimeter of the dining room is one long banquette with throw pillows. TVs are set to sports.
Starters: Steamed dumplings ($6.95) with ground chicken and shrimp are fresh and tender, unlike so many that taste as though they've just been removed from the freezer. Tasty chicken rolls ($6.95) consist of marinated chicken wrapped in spring-roll paper that's then deep-fried until crispy and served with house-made plum sauce. Soft-shell crab ($7.95) was disappointing because it was soggy instead of fried crispy. Starters also include crab rangoon ($5.95), miso soup ($2.95), smoked-salmon-skin salad ($7.95) and crunchy calamari ($7.95).
Entree excellence: While I associate Asian noodle soup most strongly with Vietnam, soup is decidedly Thai at Kin Noodle Bar. It helps if you know the difference between Tom Ka and Tom Yum broth. Tom Ka is coconut-based, while Tom Yum is clear. Both can be ordered on a spice level between one and five. Start at two, unless you're very brave. Pankhao makes all the rice noodles in-house but buys the ramen noodles. Chicken Tom Yum Noodle ($11.95) with a choice of noodle, chicken or shrimp comes with a simple house salad with peanut dressing. The same soup is just $7.95 at lunch. Boat Noodle, which is a special beef broth, can be had with a choice of pork ball or beef ball, bean sprouts, fresh spinach, celery leaves and scallions. I had incredible pad Thai ($12.95) with noodles that were among the freshest I've tasted. Like the soup, the noodle dishes come with salad. There's fried rice ($1095-$12.95), and several Kin specials that come with salad and miso soup. Among them are tempura udon soup with three tempura shrimp and vegetables ($12.95), chicken teriyaki ($13.95) and Kin duck ($19.95), roasted boneless duck on spinach, topped with honey sauce and cilantro.
Sweet!: Tempura banana with ice cream ($6), mochi ice cream ($2 each) and chocolate banana crepe ($6) top the list of desserts.
Service: Earnest, but awkward in part because of the small tables. You come here for well-priced food and cold beer, not fine service. It's a noodle bar!
Liquid assets: Huge selection of $3 draft beer, including Blue Point, Magic Hat, Stella Artois, Blue Moon, Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam and Bass.
200 S. Federal Highway, Boca Raton
Hours: Lunch Monday-Saturday, dinner daily
Reservations: Accepted, but not required
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Street parking