Austin Thai War
I love Thai food. I'll say right here that it is my favorite cuisine in the world. Let's start a thread that we can all go back to - restaurants and groceries.
It seems that we are blessed with a critical mass of Thai restaurants lately. Over the years, I've noticed that people either love/hate some Thai restaurants in favor of others. For example, there's a subtle notion that Madam Mam's opening at the Village will affect Titaya's business. Titaya's has a loyal following that I respect, although, I haven't experienced ethereal experiences in the six or seven times I've eaten there. Some people are adamant that Madam Mam's is overrated. The solution for all of us is to eat more Thai food: every day, if necessary, to find the truth, and challenge the local Thai establishments to be even more adventurous and more authentic - not just giving us the same damned dancing, prancing shrimp that we can get in Wichita KS. Is the recent fad of Little Thailand over? Is the Say Hi guy the only Thai grocer in town? Is the new place at Mueller authentic, or not?
There is no "authentic" Thai food in Austin. Period.
Every place serves exactly the same usual suspects: Pad Thai, Curry, Tom's, Green Beans, Noodle variations, Spring Rolls, Salad. Pad Thai is not even really "Thai." And they all pretty much taste the same. Madam Mam doesn't even use Jasmine Rice.
Not saying these restauranteurs don't know their Thai Food - just the palate of the average Austinite isn't exactly cosmopolitan - & you got to please the customers, right?
Therefore, there are only two criteria with which to judge. 1. Ambiance, and 2. Value.
Thai Passion on 7th gets my vote on 1. As for 2, I would say Madam Mam, or Sawadee's buffet.
Incidentally, does Sawadee still have that buffet? Is it even open still?
Not knowing anything at all about Thai food I wouldn't know good from bad, but I was at Bangkok Cuisine once many maybe 8 years ago and don't remember much about it except that I didn't care much for it at the time. Not bad, just not memorable. However this thread has got me interested in trying some of the places listed.
conquer, I agree with your general assessment, but I disagree that ambiance and value
are the only criteria left. Even with a relative lack of "authenticity", you can still compare
cooking skill, seasoning balance, and quality of ingredients.
By the way, Exotic Thai on Braker has been re-incarnated as Sushi Den, a pan-Asian bistro place. They have a new cook, but I haven't had the nerve to give them a try.
In the meantime, it looks like Pad Thai on Parmer claims my No. 1 ranking by default.
Also, Sawadee has been replaced by Subsin's, which does not have a buffet. Sorry.
i am sorry to sound like a snotty import, but the Thai food i've had in Austin is largely in the SUCK category. maybe i haven't been to the "right places" or the "right locations" of the "right places" or i haven't ordered the "right things at the right places at the right locations" but it shouldn't be so hard.
i find the Thai food at the _Pad Thai_ restaurant at Parmer/I-35 to be passable and acceptable for the occasional lunch near my office. unfortunately, this is likely the strongest contentder for Thai i've found so far in terms of consistency.
i thought _Madam Mam's_ (Anderson Lane) was pretty, but mediocre to poor.
i hear the _Pad Thai_ at Mueller isn't as good.
the _Thai Passion_ on 6th St was unbearably bad.
the only thing worse than that was the _Thai Kitchen_ on Guadalupe (yes, i should have known better to even attempt that one)
the drunken noodles at _Kaprow_ (Howard Lane) was decent in texture, but low on the hot peppers and fresh basil, and i wouldn't intentionally go back and try anything, esp. with my doubts raised as far as Thai and sushi together.
the pad thai at _Thai Village_ (I-35/Lincoln Village) was very good, but an attempt to try other things on the menu resulted in large disappointment.
my expectations and standards are high. it doesn't help that i've eaten at more than 300 different Thai places across the country over the past 25 years, or that i've eaten Thai at least 40 times a year when i've lived someplace that has the good stuff. or that i moved here from Queens (NYC) which has some of the best Thai food on the continent, and next door to the reasonably-famous Sripraphai, or that i lived in SF for a time before that and WDC before that.
i know i can't set the bar that high here, but i hate wasting my time, money, palate, and calories on sub-par food. hate it. i've all but given up.
my favorite dishes:
- drunken noodles (noodles should be irregularly broken rice-paper, dense, chewy, thick, and crispy at edges) with slices of hot peppers and lots of holy basil
- fish cake
- soft shell crabs with holy basil and pepper
- crispy duck with curry
- roast duck in curry
- green curry
- panang curry
- yum salads
- mussel pancake
- moo pad prik khing (pork and string beans, but they should be long beans)
- crispy pork
- tom kha (gai is ok, but i prefer to get it with seafood or tofu)
also, most of the places i've tried in Austin have used very poor quality meats and seafood. anyone using good, fresh ingredients?
I guess my thai palate is provincial........it will be exciting for me to start here in Austin, and then just move up on the thai-goodness scale as I evolve. Sorry that you are having to go in the opposite direction.
Is pad thai your go-to dish, or is that what you normally order? I make it a habit of not ordering any menu item that starts with "drunken" or "dancing or "prancing." Typically, I never order curry at thai places, either, because I make many variations at home. Except for Madam Mam's special curries.
Anyhow, I had another great meal at Madam Mam's. There's a special soup on the menu right now that's incredibly awesome. Black peppery tangy broth with shredded magrood. Soooo many flavors all perfectly combined in a deep broth with chicken, three kinds of mushrooms, and all sorts of vegetables. With rice.
We also had Mam's Special Gang Prik - a non coconut "southern" red curry that's heavy on tumeric. Had it with Shrimp. Lot's of magrood, thai basil, and peppers in the mix. Might be too hot for you, though.
Since my 20 month old was with us, we wanted to order a bland dish. I'd passed this one up twenty times, but I always noticed in on the menu. Penne pasta, peas, carrots, onions in a peanut/tomato broth. I'd never thing that peanuts and tomato would go together. We found ourselves lapping it up. Our Thai waitress said that it is a typical "comfort food" in thailand, and one of her favorite dishes.
What did you have at the Anderson location?
Not being even a beginner when it comes to Thai, my opinion shouldn't count for anything, but I like Madam Mam's. I've found a dish I like, Pad Ped Nor Mai, that doesn't have that (and please someone tell me what it is so I can avoid it - lemon grass? magrood?) "dish soap" flavor I find so off-putting.
Your tastebuds count for more, Amysue. I've heard of people (10% of the population) that gets a similar flavor from cilantro. Do you like cilantro?
That dish had thai basil in it, so I assume that you like that. It doesn't have the magrood. Have you had Tom Kha with the magrood in it (green leaves that you can't chew)?
I actually love cilantro, so I'm sure it's not that. I'm pretty sure it's the lemongrass, but not 100%. I've only found the flavor in Thai food and mostly in the soups and soup-like dishes. Haven't tried the Tom Kha, but I did try the jungle curry and it had the flavor I'm talking about.
i went to thai cuisine for the second time ever today, and now i am kicking myself for not going more often.
it is by far and away the best thai lunch deal in town, and very decent food.
i am not saying it is the most traditional/authentic/non-american place, but it's solid food for a great price.
the noodle dish i had today reminded me of the food my thai room-mate used to make and share, which is a good thing.
for $10 and some change (including the tax and tip, mind you):
some flat noodle dish, not too dry or wet, with onions, scrambled egg, bamboo shoots, tomatoes, chinese kale (almost mustardy tasting), and lots of chile-flecked white-meat chicken.
it would have come with bell peppers, but i can't eat 'em.
my only complaint was the pinkish tomatoes, but i think that is more winter's fault than anything.
free lunch-only appetizer bar:
pork dumplings with garlicky fried chile that i am still craving, plus a gingery dipping sauce
veggie spring rolls with peanut sauce
tempura (totally not thai, but still filling and rib-sticking during a winter day)
two different soups; i had the veggie tom yum ka, with lots of mushrooms and big silken tofu chunks, yum!
thai tapioca pudding: medium-sized pearls with a pretty pink tint from what i think was taro, made with coconut milk, some longer strands of shredded coconut, a few tiny pieces of pineapple, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
it was not thick-set, but i didn't mind slurping up the subtle flavors and different textures.
there were also several salad bar ingredient options, but i went for the heavier stuff.
i got there at the tail end of lunch, so there may be even more options if you are not a straggler.
you cannot beat the price, especially here in the land of the bland.
also? i found it to be quite flavorful despite my cold, so that is saying something.
yeah, i did feel kinda bad.
but the server insisted that i get seconds before it was cleared so i did.
and then i was glad i did, haha.
apparently they throw out whatever the staff doesn't want, and there was a lot.
where else can you eat that much thai food in austin for so little?
one of the best deals in town.
all, i appreciate your feedback after my disdain. i do mean to try Titiya's and i'll try Thaitara and i'll try the Thai place on Parmer (probably close-ish to my office).
unfortunately i cannot even recall what we tried at the Anderson location.
very forgettable. i rarely get Pad Thai, as it's usually boring. i usually don't have it unless someone else gets it and it's family style. i had it at the one place (Thai Village) as my friend said they did a great version there, and that was true.
rudeboy, don't be tricked by the "drunken" part of drunken noodles. it's a pad kee mao, but it is often called drunken noodles or noodles of the drunks throughout Thailand. it's typically a street-vendor dish and heartily eaten after a nights drinking.
i think i'll start another thread, because i've fallen in love with the soups at Lily's Sandwich. best Vietnamese soups i've had outside of Vietnam.
Just tried Little Thailand. One word comes to mind (from all 3 of us in my family) SALTY! We were very disappointed as it seems to have quite a loyal following. We had the Pad Thai, the curried dish with beef, and the Some Tom w/ beef on the side. All were too salty, even the Pad Thai! The menu was limited. I prefer Titaya and Satay and would not go back. Horsefly on the wall and the dust balls hanging from the lamp next to our table--not appetizing either. Bloody Marys were very good though.
Wonder how I missed this thread.
Rudeboy asks "Is the recent fad of Little Thailand over?"
In business since 1981 I hardly see how Little Thailand could be described as a "recent fad".
That being said I finally ate at a Thai restaurant that wasn't Little Thailand recently;Titaya's on Lamar.
We ran the table on apps,no entree's.Wanted to try the maximum amount of flavors without committing to just a couple big plates.Saw a couple friends there who upon finding out it was our first visit just went WILD with their verbiage.
At this point I'm expecting a Surin Simcoe style explosion of Thai heat and deliciousness.
It never happened.
Titaya's was ok.Had I never experienced the pleasures of the Little Thailand table I might of liked it more.I found the effort to be earnest if not lacking in execution.
I did like the chicken wings which is one of my Thai standard bearers.Was it as good as Little Thailands' stuffed wings?
Not by a long shot.
I'm open to suggestions as to what Austin area based Thai can hang with Little Thailand.Once in a great while I'll hit a place that people are foaming at the mouth over.Invariably I end up pining for Surin's exquisite plate of yom nua,an icy Sing Ha and old Hank wailing on the jukebox-the ghost of Dick smiling down upon the "kids" at the bar all the while.
Who all's been eating at Little Thailand lately?
Hey - it's a war, right? At the time, I was commenting during the events that occurred after Little Thailand's review in the statesman and numerous comments all over chowhound. I've only been there once, so I can't really comment too much....the beef salad was extoardinary, stuffed wings were great, a couple of dishes were just OK. There was a chicken curry dish with potatoes that was insanely bland. It didn't help that a friend right off the bat remarked to Dick "we don't know anything about thai food so just brings us what you think we'd like." I was unable to intervene, being siidetracked by a bloody mary. We had a great time in the back for a couple of hours. I always wanted to go back, but my food sampling on that first event didn't blow me away. Too bad, really. I do need to go back.
Anyhow, it's hard, because Madam Mam's Special Masman beef curry P50 is one of the best dishes I've had. That, combined with their green apple salad (not for the timid...not because of heat, but dried shrimp and fish sauce and lime juice mixed with apples), and P32 (Pad Ped Nor Mai Pork, which I think means in thai "set your a$$ on fire), was my best thai experience overall.
ditto. never waste your time with their apps. the shrim eggroll thing is ok, but i'll put their masman curry against any in town. all their curries are great. as is the the pineapple fried rice, pad thai etc.
but one less person eating there does mean less wait for me, so go with your gut.
re: Chicago Wine Geek
What do you normally order at Thai places? I have friends that absolutely only ever try the various curries. Some people only ever order Tom Yum (for example, I don't like the regular Tom Yum at Madam Mam's).
The rankings are often different for people who are into the curries. Not saying that's you, but it is something that I've noticed.
I didn't do a great job of taking notes, but I've been to Muang Thai twice this past week for lunch. There are TWENTY-NINE lunch options. They have a varied menu for dinner as well. I've tried about five different dishes - all have been good. My favorite was number 18 - a red curry stir fry over rice, with green beans and peppers, kaffir lime, and thai basil. There wasn't any coconut milk - just curry paste in a stir fry. It's very good. I can't remember the name of the curry, but it wasn't one of the more common names (yellow, red, panang, mussman, etc).
Thai people eat Thai food every day. So should we.......
Anybody know what "Muang" means?
when i woke up this morning and felt an ominous constriction in my chest, i knew i needed
some people rely on chicken soup for their soul, but i'm not having that.
i want, no, NEED, tom yum.
on my way to target, i remembered muang thai just in time to switch lanes and pull into the strip mall.
sadly, i made the mistake of ordering their version of crab rangoon.
thai food is not exactly known for it's dairy, but i have a weakness for crab rangoon as a guilty pleasure.
the menu said it was blue crab, mushrooms and scallions so it seemed like a good variation.
it wasn't horrible, but the rolls were way too large and it just...wasn't right.
instead of some gingery fish-sauced dip, which would have been great, they gave you an artfully presented mayo and sriracha sauce instead.
but the tom yum was amazing.
it was heavy on the chile paste, and had wonderful texture from all the garlic, kaffir leaves, ginger and whatnot in the broth.
perfect combination of tangy/citrusy/sour/salty/umami/hot.
the shrimp were good (3 i believe).
i will warn you: it had a few tomato chunks, which i found totally weird.
but the broth and the scallions and lemon grass were all so good, i just didn't care.
as i type this, i deeply regret not ordering a large container to take home and keep in the fridge.
my standard first-time-at-a-new-thai-place dish is green curry.
my pet peeve is when it has hardly any veggies, or relies on lots of bell peppers and onions as the "veggies".
it was not too creamy and coconut milky, and it had a nice spice/heat to it.
i love the baby ginger strands (not sure of the name in thai), and they were kind enough to sub mushrooms for the bell peppers.
it came with zucchini, mushrooms and eggplant.
i would have loved to see some green beans and bitter melon in there.
or sweet potato.
but i never see that here so maybe it's a boston thai food thing.
i took a menu home and would love to try their lunch specials, because they are very cheap and there are a ton to choose from.
having only been to thai food on parmer once, when it first opened, i can't really recall that it blew me away like muang thai did today with the soup.
but, thai food is right around the corner from my work, and has a free soup/salad/appetizer bar at lunch, so i am hoping to check it out again next week when our caf is closed for a week due to the holidays.
I suppose that I should be placed in the Madam Mam's camp, though I'll happily eat at Titaya's or Little Thailand anytime. I haven't been to Subsin's yet, I neither like nor dislike Thai Cuisine on Parmer, I think Thai Passion on 183 is fine, and I think it's thoughtful of Thai Kitchen on Guadalupe to open late.
For some time now, Madam Mam's has had the same specials menu, and everything I've had on it has been outstanding, particularly its several beef dishes. Most recently, I've tried the nuer ob, a hearty, rustic dish of beef stewed in a sweet sauce with onions, served with a small bowl of green chili sauce resembling a tomatillo salsa. It's delicious, perhaps overwhelmingly so. And then there's the mieng kum: leaves of romaine lettuce loaded up with hunks of lime, ginger, chilies, dried shrimp, peanuts, and shredded coconut... wow.
The only problem I have with Madam Mam's is that their portions are a bit large.
re: cobra libre
The problem I have with Mam's isn't that the portions are too large; it's that they never give enough rice to accompany all that delicious sauciness when you order a curry.
But to the other points in this thread: My standard for thai deliciousness is Panang Curry. I love it. I crave it. At least once a week I am driven to eat it. I've tried making it at home, but it never comes out quite as thick as I like. My favorite panangs tend to be those with thicker, darker sauces. I will admit, I don't know what constitutes the most authentic panang, I just know that my personal preference is for thicker, darker sauces, and lots of kaffir lime leaf shreds and thai basil. If there must be vegetables in addition to the protein, let it be green beans or potato only. Mam's panang is tasty, as is Titayas. Went to thai passion recently and asked for it extra hot. I knew by the waiter's smirk that I was in for trouble. Went through about 5 glasses of water on that visit, but it was worth it. The version at Thai kitchen is also surprisingly delicious (this is the only dish I like/will eat there- the sauce is thick and usually has visible bits of minced garlic, no veggies, just shreds of kaffir lime leaf). My favorite thing at Mam's though, is the NS15. Good god, that soup... with flat broad noodle... Anyway I digress. Just throwing in my two cents. I realize this is total CH blasphemy but I still haven't been out to Little Thailand. The more recent reviews seem to indicate she has fallen from glory... I wonder if it's still worth the drive...? And while I am jumping around from topic to disjointed topic: Central Market just started carrying shredded lime leaf in jars. They are frequently out of fresh leaves, so this has been a godsend.
I concur with femmenikita, my favorite dish at Madam Mam's is NS15 - Tom Khlong- with flat rice noodle(you get to select one of three different noodles). My mouth is watering just thinking about this sour, lemongrass/lime, spicy hot soup. Its an acquired taste, but I am addicted. My hubby likes the beef curry w/ jalapeno slow roasted with the large onion half as the garnish. I'm thrilled that they will be opening at Lincoln Village.
We love Titaya's also, their curries (green, red, you name it) are very delicious and complex.
re: bloody hammer
re: bloody hammer
I had lunch today at Madam Mam's and tried the NS15. It's a very, very good dish.
I'd say it's fairly similar to my beloved NS14 but at the same time very different. The NS15 seems to mainly focus on sourness (which I enjoyed) while the NS14 has a more complex flavor... and I think is a bit spicy/hotter too.
An outstanding Thai restaurant is the Thai Spoon in Round Rock. Try getting the whole fried fish. They have the whole fried fish on Fridays and Saturdays, and the best way to get it is the La or Pla. They don't offer them on the menu (they offer the more accessible whole fish with red curry sauce), and you have it to get it hot or Thai hot to really appreciate how good it is. Also, you can get sticky rice with it; you make a small ball of the sticky rice and soak it in the sauce of the fish and eat it. The sticky rice amplifies the sauce and it's just incredible.
The papya salad, also best hot or Thai hot, is delicious.
For dessert, they have home made ice creams, and the mango and coconut ice creams, with sticky rice, is heavenly.
Here's my rough ranking:
Exotic Thai (Braker) very good: red snapper, duck curry; good: larb, pineapple fried rice
Pad Thai (N I-35) nice spices
Thai Cuisine (Parmer) soup-and-appetizer buffet incl. with lunch
Thai Passion (downtown) has a nice pineapple fried rice, but not served in a pineapple
Chon Som (Wells Branch)
Ka-Prow (N I-35)
Madam Mam's (Guadalupe)
Thai Kitchen (Guadalupe)
Thai Passion (Burnet)
Thai Tara (W 6th)
[don't remember trying]
? Muangthai (183 & 620)
? Pad Thai (Mueller)
? Subsin's (Manchaca) old Sawadee location, which was previously Thai Garden (!)
? Thai Kitchen (Bee Caves), Thai Kitchen (William Cannon)
? Thai Noodles Etc. House (Guadalupe)
? Thai Spoon (Round Rock)
? Thai Village (near Highland Mall)
? Thamnak Thai (Cedar Park)
[no longer in business]
***Thai Garden had excellent larb
I'm in the Titaya's lover category, and based on their filled dining room so are many others--the lightly fried catfish with red coconut curry sauce is amazing (Chu Chee?).
I also really like Exotic Thai on Braker near Lamar--everything is really clean and fresh there. I also like how the menu doesn't pander. All main dishes, no apps (spring rolls, etc).
I think we should break this down into three categories: Heavyweights, Middleweights and Lightweights.
Heavyweighs will be the transcendent, delicious, authentic... upper eschelon of eateries. Who fits into this category? Not many, I would suspect.
Middleweights will be very good, worth the price of admission, and well-favored by those who live nearby.
Lightweights will be everybody else.
That said, I'll put Thai Cuisine (on Parmer next to Tomo Sushi) as a strong contender for the middleweight title fight. Their dishes are very fresh... veggies, seafood items, sauces, rice. Everything I've had on the menu has been very satisfying. Their lunch buffet approaches excellence with its offerings. And finally, if someone who is well-seasoned in Tom Yum soup knows of a better one in Austin, please let me know. I'll drive there right away and do a comparison. Thai Cuisine's is divine.
Madam Mam's falls into this weight class also, in my opinion.
Titaya may be a fair fighter in the heavyweights, if nothing else based on their "specialties" section of the menu, which is ballsy. Hot, authentic, and flavorful...and hot. Enough has been said about them in other threads.
Tonight I tried Muang Thai at 183 and Lakeline Mall Dr. (where Sea Dragon II used to be), and sadly, I'd say they'll be lucky to make it even in the lightweight class. I got a mixed seafood dish ("Sp6") which had 3 peppers on the menu. It barely registered on the Scoville scale. The seafood - shrimp, shelled mussels, squid - were forgettable (putting it nicely). My SO had pad se ewe which was just bad. We were the only ones in there on a Sunday, and while they were glad for our business, it was empty, dreary, and the meal matched the atmosphere. Sad. Other lightweights would include Thai Passion, Thai Tara and Thai Kitchen.
I too, love the Thai food.
As for another Thai grocer, Jam at Thai Fresh on 5th and Mary has a great selection of Thai groceries and dishes that you can either eat in, or take to go (think prep foods at Whole Foods/CM style). I like her red curries and green beans.
As for Little Thailand, I've only been in big groups and while fun, we've always done the family style and I'm not impressed. I'd like to try going with just one or two people and ordering off the menu.
Count me in as one of those that loves Madam Mam's. I frequent Westgate and have tried many dishes, but I always go back to NS8 w/ Tofu and vermicelli (Tom Yum). The last time I got a green curry, I didn't think it was hot enough.
I also absolutely love Titaya's. Everything I've had there has been wonderful, and I really wish I could remember what it was I got last time that was the star of the menu for sure. To be fair, I haven't tried their Tom Yum which is my Thai benchmark.
Next on my list to try is the place in Circle C. I can't remember the name of it, Blue something I think? My friends went the other night and thought they might need a couple of weeks to work out kinks so I'm waiting to give it a try.
Madam Mam's is my favorite in Austin. I eat at the one down south quite often. As a matter of fact, I had lunch there just today... LOL.
I've tried probably 2/3 of the menu and I gotta say the NS14 (Guay Teaw Tom Yum Moo with Peanut) is my favorite dish... it's an amazing explosion of flavors. As I talk more and more with the servers that recognize me there I'm learning that it is also a very popular dish among them as well.
I've also had some really good dishes at that funky little place out past the airport. The guy there, Dick, also makes a really tasty hot sauce. I always make sure to pick up 3 or 4 bottles every time I go. Which reminds me.... it's about time to take a trip out that way.
Thai food rocks!