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AL-DIAFFAH AL-IRAQI

Don’t expect restaurant-standard ambience or service. This is a real workers’ diner. Every space on the table is quickly filled with big servings of meaty dishes — lamb, beef and chicken kebabs $13 and sides of salad, homous, pickled vegetables and freshly made bread. We love the way the bread puffs up out of those cylindrical ovens. The stand-out is the slow-cooked flavoursome lamb stew in which the meat falls off the bone $15. You can people watch, SBS watch or take in the gallery of old photos of Baghdad that line the walls. It’s a clean and comfortable eatery with modest but friendly service and there’s a glass of sweet tea to finish. And that’s lunch. Shukran.
 

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JEN MY CHINESE RESTAURANT

Cuisine: Chinese

There’s nothing flash about the location or decor but suburban areas often harbor a little gem like this one. The first clue: every table was occupied by 7pm on a weeknight, so there had to be something special on the list of northern Chinese dishes. We had what they were having: steamed dumplings! Delicious, handmade succulent mouthfuls of minced pork and ginger are just $7.50 for 12. Then it was Shandong chicken $12.80 and black mushrooms with bok choy $8.80 and the Portia de Rossi diet dish: delicately steamed basa with fluffy egg whites. Never bother with dessert in a Chinese restaurant? Try the little deep-fried apple dumplings that you dunk in cold water for an amazing crunchy toffee apple sensation.

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LAO VILLAGE

Cuisine: Chinese,Laotian

Brick walls painted blue, pink chairs, no real care for making things look snazzier than they need to be: these are the things we love about this family-owned place — and, of course, the authentic cuisine, which shares many flavours with Thai cuisine. It’s coming up to 20 years for Lao Village and it’s still pulling in the locals and journeying diners alike. Barbecued marinated ox tongue $8 is always tender and juicy with a simple but delicious chilli sauce. Chicken feet salad $8 is worth a try — crispy onion with shallots and a sprinkling of chilli gives it a beautiful textural contrast to the soft meat of the chicken, with a lip-smacking sauce. There are more straightforward dishes to counter any experimental ordering, such as fried flat rice noodles with seafood $9. Simple and satisfying.
 

 

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SONG FANG KHONG

Cuisine: Chinese,Laotian,Laotian

Two’s company for Lao restaurants on Anzac Street in Fairfield. It just means you’ll have to return to compare and contrast Lao Village and Song Fang Khong. We love both, the latter especially for its Laotian papaya salad $7.50. It’s different from the Thai version (also on offer here $7.50) in that it’s flavoured with crab paste and salty (brined) crab instead of fish sauce. Lao sausages $7.50 are minced with fresh herbs, including lemongrass, lemon leaf, onion and chilli, perfect for wrapping in lettuce and dipping in sweet chilli sauce or rolled in sticky rice $3. Another classic Laotian dish, barbecued ox tongue $7.50, is tender and succulent. All dishes come with crisp fresh lettuce and herbs. There are no sweets on offer but you’ll see everyone sipping glasses of orange-coloured Thai iced tea mixed with condensed milk and served as sweet as you like $3.

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