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Restaurant review: Bida Manda

After getting a sneak peek of downtown Raleigh's new Laotian restaurant in Moore Square, we couldn't wait to return and actually try the food. We finally made it to Bida Manda for lunch, and it definitely won't be our last meal there.

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Bida Manda
Caitlin Zanga
After getting a sneak peek of downtown Raleigh's new Laotian restaurant in Moore Square, we couldn't wait to return and actually try the food. We finally made it to Bida Manda for lunch, and it definitely won't be our last meal there. Laotian cuisine combines Asian and French influences while using simple, fresh ingredients.
The Location: Moore Square in downtown Raleigh on Blount Street, next to Tir na nOg. Bida Manda's interior features simple wood tables, an inviting bar and an intricate stick structure on the walls.The restaurant has a very relaxed ambiance that made us reluctant to return to the office.
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The Food: A unique blend of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and French cooking that uses fresh, local ingredients. The plates are usually simple in their construction and plating, but the spices and textures come together well to create amazing flavor. Although the food might be exotic to most, Bida Manda aims to produce warm, welcoming comfort food.
The Meal: We shared an appetizer of Crispy Spring Rolls with portobello mushroom and each ordered something different for our entrees.
Crispy Portobello Spring Rolls at Bida Manda.
Caitlin: Starting with the spring rolls let me know just exactly what kind of food I was dealing with here: delicious, spicy and crafted to perfection. The rolls were crispy on the outside and stuffed with flavorful veggies. In addition to the rolls I ordered a house salad with ginger dressing. After the intense flavor of the spring rolls, I was a little disappointed with the salad. The vegetables were crispy and fresh, but the dressing wasn't strong enough for me. For my entree I chose the Lao Baguette with Grilled Lemongrass Chicken. Somewhere in between a sub and a true baguette, this sandwich was filling but refreshing. It was stuffed with pickled daikon and carrot, herbs, cucumbers and cilantro mayo on top of thin slices of grilled chicken. The cilantro and lemongrass were definitely the strongest flavors, while the cucumbers, daikon and carrots provided an extra crunch.
Tara: When you walk into Bida Manda you become immediately wrapped in the Lao culture. From the paintings on the wall to the music to the tables, and even down to the dishes, you are taken out of Raleigh and into a different world. Just being there I was already excited to try this new cuisine that I had never experienced before. For my entrée I chose the Shrimp Pad Thai and asked if they could make it very spicy.
Shrimp Pad Thai at Bida Manda.

He warned me that they can make some extremely spicy dishes so I decided to go with medium for my heat level. The waiter also brought out a spice tray for me so I could make it spicier if I wanted but after one bite I decided this was the perfect temperature. The Pad Thai was served in a huge bowl and was more than enough for one person. I was a little worried about the crispy tofu that the menu mentioned it came with but it was delicious. The eggs, vegetables, tofu, rice noodles, and shrimp went perfectly together and everything tasted extremely fresh. I can’t wait to go back again and try the Lao Baguette.

Lisa: Truth be told, I wanted every vegetarian appetizer that was available on the lunch menu as my selection of choice when we visited Bida Manda. Resisting the urge to order them all, we settled on the "Manda's Crispy Spring Rolls" (available with ground pork or portobello mushroom) to split between the three of us. Perfect choice - three large rolls were presented a few minutes after ordering, all halved. No having to decide who gets the last! (Special thanks to my lunchtime cohorts for giving into my vegetarian ways and being game for going with the mushroom over pork selection.)
Grilled Lemongrass Chicken Lao Baguette at Bida Manda.

For my lunch entree, I'm a sucker for a good sandwich, so I went with the Lao Baguette, with grilled portobello mushroom. The pickled vegetables on it gave it a sweet bite and the hard slate it was served on was a nice break from the ordinary. Our server explained in advance that the baguettes were sort of a blend between a hard French baguette and a softer sub roll and he was right on the money. If you're looking for the kind of sandwich that scrapes the top of your mouth, that's not what you'll find here. I'm looking forward to going back and ordering the Green Papaya Salad (served with tomato, peanuts, spicy lime sauce, sticky rice, and choice of steak, pork, chicken, or grilled vegetables) on our next lunch outing to Bida Manda.

The Service: Our server was friendly, knowledgeable and quick to fill our glasses. He recommended the Basil Beef and the Lao Baguettes.
The Bill: Very reasonable for the quality and the service – an appetizer and decent-sized entree was under $15.
The Verdict: With so many interesting items on the menu, we'll definitely be back (when we're off the clock, we definitely want to check out Bida Manda's varied and innovative cocktails).

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