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TOKYO — Thai beer, Malaysian chicken curry and Chinese steamed dumplings. When the cravings kick in, I start dreaming about long weekends and cheap airline tickets.

When reality kicks in, and I realize I have to get my culinary kicks someplace that doesn’t require a passport, I look no further than the Monsoon Cafe. And with 11 locations in Tokyo, I know I don’t have to look far.

I’ve always described Monsoon as Asian-fusion: you’ll find reasonably priced Thai, Indonesian, Chinese, Laotian and Vietnamese fare for both lunch and dinner.

I usually visit the Nishi-Azabu restaurant because it’s only a five-minute walk from Hardy Barracks and because they also offer take-out service.

The 1,200 yen (about $11) lunch set includes a choice of four entrees — I recently chose the fried rice with crab sauce — with a fresh spring roll, appetizer, dessert and bottomless soft drink.

The portions were generous and tasty, even though the appetizer — a fried spring roll — was a bit greasy.

Flipping through the menu reminded me that I want to hit Monsoon again at night. And I actually already decided on the meal:

Appetizer: Indian spice fried soft shell crab with tortillas, 980 yen

Salad: Oriental salad with peanut dressing, 700 yen.

Soup: Cup of vermicelli and tofu, 550 yen.

Entrée: Grilled swordfish with lime-ginger sauce, 1,100 yen

Dessert: Fried banana with coconut ice cream, 480 yen.

And I think I’ll wash it all down with a quick trip through the region, starting with a bottle of Chinese Tsing Tao, moving to an Indonesian Bintang and wrapping it up with a Thai Singha.

Monsoon Cafe, Tokyo

Hours: Varies per location, check Web site

Prices: Reasonably priced, nothing really more than 2,000 yen

Specialties: Asian fare from China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos

English menu: Yes

Dress: Casual, but popular date place at night and folks can be a bit dressier.

Clientele: Come one, come all. Since they’re located downtown, not much of a big base crowd.

Location: Multiple locations, so see Web site. The closest to Hardy Barracks: Exit the barracks gate and turn right. Turn left at the stoplight and walk up one block. Turn right on Gaien Nishi-dori and the restaurant is a few hundred yards up the road.


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