Shhhhh...don't tell anyone, but what some consider the best Southeastern Asian restaurant in New England might not actually be in Boston. That title may just go to a tiny little place that resides in a relatively lesser-traveled section of the city of Providence. What is Apsara, you say? Indeed, try to find five people outside of the immediate area who have ever heard of this no-frills eatery--the odds are probably against you. And that may be what makes Apsara even more appealing, as it perhaps the ultimate hidden gem, and one of our personal favorites within this entire site.
Located on a side street just off of Elmwood Avenue on the edge of Providence's West End, Apsara resides in a bit of a rough-and-tumble area that is worlds away from the mansions of College Hill on the east side of the city. Since it is hidden away from some of the better-known sections of Providence for food (College Hill, Wayland Square, Fox Point, Federal Hill), Apsara is easily missed by folks looking for good restaurants in the city. The restaurant itself is nothing to look at, with a plain exterior and a slightly cramped and brightly lit interior that is separated into a main room and what feels almost like a three-season porch next to the main dining area. The hard floor at Apsara can make the dining spot a bit loud at times, but only when it is very crowded, which doesn't seem to be all that often.
Apsara is probably best considered an Asian restaurant more than a restaurant that focuses on a specific cuisine, as it has an eclectic menu that includes Cambodian, Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, and Chinese food. There are too many items on the menu to count, which makes this a good place for a large group that may have a mix of adventurous and less-adventurous diners. For starters, the nime chow (Cambodian spring rolls) with peanut sauce is tough to beat, with the chicken version of the appetizer having particularly thick and hearty chunks of meat. The hot and sour soup is more sweet than hot or sour, actually, with an emphasis on the delectable fish sauce mixed into it. One main dish that is truly unforgettable is the all-too-familiar Singapore noodles which is taken to a completely different level here. This is not your typical Singapore noodle dish--and not for the faint of heart (or stomach)--as it is extremely spicy, with curry and peppers that will cause your eyes to water. A less common item that can be found at Apsara is the loat cha (also known as lort cha), or short rice noodles that have "tails" at the end. This wonderful Cambodian specialty can be ordered with meat and/or vegetables, with the chewy and pillow-like noodles having a slightly smoky and sweet taste coming from the soy and fish sauces.
You might want to borrow a GPS to find Apsara, since it is in a section of Providence that has a rather confusing array of streets. But once you find it, it would be a good guess that you'll be coming back to this tremendous little spot again and again.
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