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Best Bites: 99 Asian Market

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242 North Winooski Avenue, Burlington 865-0226

It's not often that I can say a restaurant opening has changed my quality of life, but since 99 Asian Market began serving prepared food a month ago, I have had more spring in my step. I can finally get a banh mi, made fresh just for me (right).

What's that, you ask? Only the greatest sandwich combination ever concocted. Picture a baguette spread with pate and butter, then stuffed with pickled carrots, lotus and cucumbers, meat, cilantro and jalapenos. On Friday night, I had an extra-special experience, when the cook cut up the largest pork ribs I had ever seen, prepared to a gloriously salty crispness, and used that as the meat in my banh mi. Did I mention it was still only $3? There were also crispy whole ducks on the buffet line. Next time, I'd like a duck sandwich please.

Friday nights are the best time to hit 99, as the staff has just arrived from the farmers market in Boston. This week, a cooler full of live blue crabs waved goodbye as they waited to be fried up to order.

There were too many fresh fish and meat varieties to list. There were also desserts from Yi Soon Bakery in Allston, Mass. I am officially addicted to the Easter egg-purple taro bun.

Every day, though, is full of fun surprises at 99. Beside the varied menu, each day a buffet is set out at lunchtime. My first try, I had pig's ears and greens fried with chiles. The next, it was pad thai. Both were excellent and the egg rolls, which cost only 75 cents, are the best around, supremely sesame-scented and full of pork. They also just added a marvelous machine which squeezes the juice from sugar cane. With the addition of an orange half, the sweet sip resembles the juice of a Honey Belle orange. With all this, as well as groceries — including fruits from durian to rambutan — 99 has become my unofficial work commissary. It should be yours too.

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