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?
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!
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'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).
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 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.
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.