Toys Cafe in Dallas - Thai - A review.
Last night my partner and I had some great food, and I thought I'd share the experience. We ate at Toys Thai food, located at 4422 Lemmon Ave. It's not in a fancy building, in fact, it's a hole in the wall in an old strip center, but it was clean and the food was EXCELLENT! Toys is the name of the proprieter, a little Asian lady with a quick smile and a warm disposition. She used to be in one half of the building, but when the store next door moved out, she expanded her restaurant to fill the space. It's still not large by any stretch of the imagination, being about as big as a small Pizza Hut inside. Tables are small, shiny, wood-grained laminate, and the chairs are the sort you see at church socials, the stacking metal-framed sort with padded seats. Not uncomfortable, but you're not going to want to sit there for hours chatting over tea.
But interior decor isn't why a foodie goes to a restaurant, is it? In short, the food met my single criterion that defines "good eating" - it was much better than I could have made at home for the same price.
Prices were very low for Dallas. My pad thai noodles with tofu was about ten bucks, My friend's chicken and noodles with spicy brown sauce was twelve. Fresh rolls, composed of nothing more than shredded iceberg lettuce in rice paper wraps and served with a delicious (if a bit thin) peanut sauce were three-fifty, which seems a bit steep for what they are, but I begrudge them nothing since the menu described them precisely. The peanut sauce was so good, we kept the remains to garnish our main course!
My companion first ate there for lunch with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and although he ordered it three stars hot (out of four), it came out spiced more appropriately for a nursing home. I guess they either misunderstood him last time, or maybe they just lighten up the spice for lunch so lightweight Dallas businessmen can crow that they eat "Four-star-hot" Thai food. Whatever, my friend's three-star chicken dish was PLENTY spicy! When Toys took our order, I told her that he wanted to sweat but not cry, and she took me very seriously! The food they put on the table was exactly that hot. I'm glad my tofu was only two stars or I'd have to consider putting a fire extinguisher in my bathroom.
Although the heat was there, it wasn't the immediate, punishing heat that can distract one from appreciating a subtle and complex flavor. It built over time, in the way that masterful Thai food manages to do. I don't think I could reproduce the sauce at home without considerable experimentation. It had a character of brown bean and hoisin, but was sweeter and....toastier, perhaps? Dark, yet not thick. Truly wonderful, and I'd recommend it without reservation to any foodie friend.
Does Toy's have any authentic Thai dishes? I am curious as I have found only one restaurant in Dallas that does. I would like to compare the two if they do. Some of the dishes are as follows:
Like Petai or Sator beans (Stinky beans)
gaeng lueng (Spicy coconut shoot soup)
gaeng som (Tamarind soup)
Deep fried fish with nam prik
I used to work at Lemmon and Central and have passed Toy's for many years. Out of curiosity, I googled it and across multiple review sites, it has received many, many consistently glowing reviews - as recently as a couple of weeks ago. There was one very negative review, but in the end, it appeared to be shill for Bangkok City. It's been my experience, that a restaurant can be 100% authentic, but ultimately, it's the cook/chef's skill/ingredients/recipe "secrets" paired with the individual diner's personal taste and palate that determines good from bad. Just saying.......
For me, authentic means that the food hasn't been overly altered to adjust to the average American's palate. For Thai that usually means they lessen the amount of fish sauce used, omit or lessen the amount of herbs like lemongrass, kaffir leaf, and cilantro, and make the dishes overly sweet.
To me, Toy's does all of these things. The owner is a sweet lady and the food is prepared well, but the food just lacks some of the flavor that I look forward to with Thai food. Obviously, this has worked for her since she has been in business a long time and I'm sure there are many people who prefer the food made this way.
I will agree with Webra's points and add in I have never tried Toy's and have no ill feelings towards the establishment or cuisine. I am just merely looking for someone from Thailand or Laos even, who could prepare a meal much like they have in their country with the ingredients we have available now in DFW.
I have also noticed that the more authentic a cuisine is the more "local" the ingredients are used. In the case of the soup I got on Friday night at Jasmine Thai was catfish and coconut shoots (not coconut or chunks but rather the small tree shoots, had the option of bamboo shoots also) in a sweet and sour broth. I noticed looking around also that my dishes tend not to have copious amounts of oil.....just could have been the dishes I ordered. The more you push a restaurant to serve authentic dishes the more they will respect your tastes. The chefs especially at Jasmine are happy to see those who seek out the "good stuff". The owner came out and talked to us and said the soup we ordered reminds him of where he grew up in Thailand and he prepares it for himself and the staff almost daily. Those are the connections I like to make when I dine out.
Which Jasmine Thai do you go to? I'd love to pick the brain(s) of the chef, but I frequent the one at coit & park. Ever since I left austin 5 or so years ago I've been looking for a place that could serve up a soup like the one I used to get from a thai place there, they called it "Guay Teaw Tom Yum Moo with peanut." no idea if it's authentic or not, but none of the thai places I've been to in town have been able to get me close to that flavor. I wouldn't necessarily expect the folks at Jasmine to be able to whip me up a batch, but even finding someone that could tell me what it is I should be asking for in the future would be awesome. I'll just add that I agree with everyone's sentiments in the thread that finding a place with someone who isn't afraid to serve you food that represents their tastes/desires and not what they think the most people will like (or not find offensive) is rare and should be celebrated... and posted about here!
As a general rule (for my taste buds), the better Thai restaurants offer sticky rice (not as a dessert), good papaya salad, and fish cakes. In college, I worked at an extremely authentic Thai restaurant and like Chinese cooking, they tend to use a lot of oil. I'm just comparing it to the amount of oil I use at home. I used to think Royal Thai was pretty good, but they haven't been decent in years.
I second and third this recommendation. My husband and I have been going to Toys for years. Great choices are:
calamari appetizer: freshest calamari i've ever had - served with a peanut oil dipping sauce
fried corn cakes appetizer
crab noodles entree: i could eat this dish every day