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Zenna’s drunken noodles were tongue-tingling Asian comfort food. Photo by Velton Hayworth

Zenna Restaurant,

3001 Bledsoe St, FW. 682-250-7230. 3pm-3am daily. All major credit cards accepted.

The restaurant turnover in the West 7th corridor – due to parking, market saturation, and other variables – can be discouraging. How is anyone supposed to become attached to an eatery that might not be there in six months? Those factors didn’t dissuade Dallas-based chain Zenna Restaurant from opening its fifth location, this one in what’s become a bit of a restaurant graveyard. At least its sweet corner spot on Bledsoe Street is close to inexpensive parking in the Farrington Field lot. 

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The Japanese/Thai fare joint is decked out in a very ’90s-looking combo of purple, red, and yellow with industrial metal touches and vinyl booths. The vibe feels like the lovechild of a hip Japanese izakaya and a frumpy ’50s-era diner.

Nigiri (delicate slices of raw fish on a small lump of sticky, vinegary sushi rice) is $1.25 apiece during happy hour (3-7 p.m. daily). It was hard not to graze the entire sushi menu at that price. The albacore tuna was cooked just a touch by the citrus juice and was sliced unusually thick. The thinly sliced and immaculately fresh salmon nigiri was a better option. 

Because my table of three landed squarely during the happy hour sweet spot, most of the things we wanted (including wine, many cocktails, and bargain sake) were extremely well-priced. 

The basil-wrapped chicken was ground, giving the appetizer an odd texture, but the taste – a captivating mélange of fresh basil, mild spices, and a sweet dipping sauce – was superbly balanced. The crust of the cabbage and chicken-stuffed gyoza was perfectly crunchy, and the juices unlocked at the touch of the tooth. With the shredded cabbage and the flavor of the ginger soy dipping sauce, the gyoza was reminiscent of a good egg roll, sans the grease.

Drunken noodles (pad key mow) are one of those bellwether dishes in Thai cuisine. If the chef’s any good, the simple combination of noodles, veggies, protein, and sauce will be outstanding. Zenna’s version is Asian comfort food at its best: perfectly fresh shrimp on a bed of tender noodles just on the softer side of al dente without being mushy. At heat level two (out of five), the zesty spices blended beautifully with the basil and aromatics for a tongue-tingling dish that didn’t quite set my mouth on fire.

The Seagull Roll (tempura shrimp, krab, cream cheese, avocado) came wrapped in baby pink soy paper covered by eel sauce and a spicy mayo. Traditional? Maybe not. But a purist can chose from 34 other rolls. The crunchy tempura shrimp contrasted delightfully with the creamy avocado and cream cheese, and the eel sauce and piquant mayo saved the roll from blandness.

The only disappointment was the cashew chicken: unsalted, barely cooked cashews drowning in a soy-brown broth of green peas, carrots, onions, and sugar snap peas. Like the drunken noodles, we ordered the chicken at two on the spice scale. There just wasn’t enough heat or contrast between the brown sauce, the brown chicken, and the tan cashews.

Even though we were fairly full, the mango sticky rice dessert called to us. The traditional Thai favorite kao niew ma mauang was faithfully executed in the Zenna kitchen –– the gorgeously plated, slightly caramel-tasting rice soaked in coconut milk was served topped with immaculately fresh mango. 

In true izakaya style, Zenna stays open until 3 a.m., so the weekend party crowd will have a place to dry out and get some carbs in before even thinking about driving home – assuming their cars haven’t been towed. 

Zenna Restaurant

Basil-wrapped chicken $5.95

Albacore or salmon nigiri $5.75/
                                                                                               $4.95

Fried gyoza $4.95

Drunken noodles $11.25

Cashew chicken $10.50

Seagull Roll $6.50

Mango sticky rice $4.75

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