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Dec 28, 2010 06:31 PM

Mutiny at Pi's Thai in Hazel Park, MI

While I once made it to the Pi’s Thai restaurant in Sterling Hts., and was not bowled over, I never did make it to the Pi’s Thai in Hazel Park, despite some recollected comments from Sir Boagman and jjspw. Well, the self described master chef behind the HP Pi’s Thai (James) has broken off and started his own place, via a partnership with a past customer (Robert & Natalie). Nice story; that is, unless you happen to be Mr. Pi.

The new place is Thai King, at the southwest corner of 15 Mile and Mound, in Sterling Hts. I dropped by for dinner tonight when I saw some cooking goin’ on, but they said they were just practicing for their opening tomorrow (12/29). James was super nice to me, and surely would have shared some of his practice dishes, but he said the restaurant license doesn’t go into effect until tomorrow. So, he sent me on my way with smiles, a pat on the back, a menu and some coupons (buy 1 dish, get 2nd at 50% off).

The menu is encouraging, though the prices are about $0.75 more than the other area Thai places. I shall report back within a couple days, although others perhaps may beat me to the punch.

Their website supposedly will be , but I can’t yet get it to work. (while troubleshooting their website, I also found this past comment on Yelp: )
Hours are 10am-9pm Mon-Sat, and Sun is TBD.

My first taste will be the tom yum soup, and it had BETTER be good!, or I am not going to be kind.

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  1. Whoa, whoa, WHOA, there Vince! When Pi was gone in Thailand, the tom yum soup was not the same, and when he returned, it once again returned to its previous blissful taste. Don't count on this place to be able to accurately reproduce that dish...go to the original Pi's in Hazel Park for that.

    If I could make a suggestion: see if James has a version of the Spicy Noodle dish that he used to make at Pi' this particular dish's case, I think I prefer the way James prepared it.

    You want some company for lunch tomorrow? I'd be happy to join you in trying them out! Let me know...

    9 Replies
      1. re: rainsux

        You want to have lunch today, Doug? Want to try this new place with me? I haven't heard from Vince as of yet...

          1. re: boagman

            Lunch is on for today here at 12 noon for any of you other Chowfolk who want to join us in christening this place. Sounds like it'll be a bit of an adventure (will we be able to actually sit down? Who knows? ADVENTURE!!!!), but it should still be fun, and you're welcome to join us.

            1. re: boagman

              Ooops....Thai King is not "as open" as they indicated last night. We were able to cry our way in for lunch today, but their real opening won't be until this coming Monday. The food was good, and the Thai King people were really nice, but some of the ingredients still aren't in stock. I'll head back for a real test run next week.

              Note to self: Don't bring the wife along to Chowhound events, because Boagman spills a little too much information about how much I spend on food when I'm dining without her...

              1. re: vtombrown

                Oh, dude, total brain fart there on my part...I didn't, however, mention anything you ordered at said spots, nor what they cost. Your wife is quite delightful, though, Vince. Glad you could all come!

                1. re: boagman

                  :-) She has her guilty pleasures (clothes, lotions) and I have mine. No problem. Good to see you. Please report out if you make it back to Thai King before me. (Thanks, too, for the info on Penny Black BBQ in Rochester, MI)

                  1. re: vtombrown


                    What are the two chinese places that your wife likes? (Yes, I have half-heimers.)

                2. re: vtombrown

                  If she pushes; I'll back you up ... your typical order is "water with lemon" and
                  then you snack off our plates. <g>

        1. I was eating my way around Toronto for a week and missed the semi-lunch gathering at the new Thai King. Boo. :-(

          I have heard lots of stories about Pi's, about James, family drama, etc. The whole situation seems odd to me. I honestly don't even know who this "James" is -- I guess I wasn't enough of a regular at either Sterling Heights or Hazel Park Pi's to know any of the ownership.

          Hazel Park Pi's was pretty darn good. The Sterling Heights location never impressed me quite as much. HP Pi's bird curry was excellent; I never tried the spicy noodle nor the tom yum (but from what others are saying here, I guess I should've tried those in Pi's heyday). Still, when I found Thai Taste in Troy, I pretty much stopped going to Pi's HP -- it's closer to where I live, takes credit cards, has much more reliable hours, and the food just tasted cleaner.

          Regardless, I recently went to Hazel Park Pi's for the first time in quite a while. I had heard a lot of rumors on Yelp that since James left, the food had really gone downhill, and I wanted to see for myself. Well, the employees were completely different. And the food? Meh, take it or leave it. Nothing spectacular. Lots of frozen veggies used. Flavors were okay, but freshness is severely lacking.

          2 Replies
          1. re: jjspw

            Speaking of Freshness in Thai Food. I just spotted a new Thai place at 8 Mile and Haggerty (Same strip mall at Trader Joe's). What is the name of the place?

            Thai Fresh.
            20460 Haggerty Rd, Northville, MI 48167 (734) 464-0645 ‎

            Well I will test that out here pretty soon. So far I have not seen a reputable review.

            1. re: JanPrimus

              Ah, right near the Target, Meijer, etc.? Looking forward to your report of it, JP.

          2. Hey guys,

            Have any of you really eaten there yet? I tried yesterday and it was a major let down. Seriously!
            me and my friend were so excited about Thai King's opening after several months of waiting and reading fabulous review on yelp, here, and urbanspoon. So I had the housemate order take out (she left work at 6 as oppose to me leaving school at 10).
            She ordered basil fried rice, pad thai (for me), and tom-yom soup. All of these dishes were major let down.
            Her fried rice was so salty, and this is a person who would put extra soy sauce on everything. The rice is under cooked so it become so hard after fried. She said James maybe too pre-occupied with talking to his previous customers from Pi's, he must have triple the salt. She didnt even eat more than a quarter of her portion.
            My padthai was a joke. They said they were out of bean sprout and would give me more noodle. Well, there were a lot of noodle. But, it was so gross i would rather I didnt have that much. Let me tell you, I have had my share of bad Pad thai, and I know good padthai. I can cook padthai better than some of the restaurant around this area, but still love to try them. Anyways, the soul of pad thai is the sauce, with consists of tamarin paste, fish sauce and (palm) sugar. Thai King's padthai lacks tamarin and fishsauce, or even salt. All I can tatse is sugar. I had to put a whole lime in my dish to balance out the sugary tatse. The noodle was like rubber-band because there was not enough water to soften them, or maybe they werent soaked well enough.
            The soup is better than the other dishes, but lacks the major ingredients which are lemongrass and lime leaves. I can make soup better than that any day.
            My friend was completely disappointed, but I say give them another chance, because they may be a bit shaky at the first few weeks.
            Mind you, I comes from a country that borders Thailand, so I know how southeast asian food tastes like, and can cook pretty well (have made larb, tom-yom, pad thai, basil fried rice with great success). So I know Im not talking nonsense.
            But really, if any of you have eaten there, please tell me what the heck is wrong with James!

            11 Replies
            1. re: black.lily

              Another one-post wonder?

              I was there with VTB and rainsux, and while it was definitely too early to hold their feet to the fire (not all ingredients were in stock), the fare I ate was fine. The Spicy Noodle dish I had was pretty good, but was missing the basil which really elevates the dish to another level. You *might* be right about the noodles being a bit undercooked, but they were certainly edible by my standards. I ate some there, and took some to go with me, and enjoyed it on both occasions. Yes, the missing basil made a difference, but not enough to ruin the dish. Not at all.

              We're pretty much in complete disagreement about the tom yum soup. While I still like Pi's better, this version was good, too. They're different animals, I'd say. James' version wasn't nearly as sweet as Pi's is, but then again, James' chicken pieces were of better quality than Pi's are. Again: I do prefer Pi's here, but the soup I had tasted good on its own merits, and I had no qualms with it.

              I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with's still early on, and I'm sure improvements will be coming. Your statement about him "tripling the salt" is just plain strange. You seem awfully intent on besmirching that enterprise for someone who's just coming in here with their first post. Judging by the verbiage used, I wonder if there isn't something more going on here.

              There's also something to be said for the attitude of the owners/workers there, and in that area, Pi's tends to come up a decent bit short in comparison. James may not be perfect, but I've never felt unwelcome or resented, and I've felt that on occasion at Pi's.

              1. re: boagman

                Well, Im not a one post wonder. And I do not create a nick name just to bash on a restaurant.
                You may think like Im some kind of an opponent trying to put Thai King down (or even think Im Mr. Pi, the poor guy who still does not know how many customers he's losing). But really, if you tasted either mine or my friend's food, you will know how/why we were so disappointed!

                I was so happy to know Thai King is open, because to find better than average Thai food around this area is more than a job. I was happy for James, and happy for myself. Cause I love to eat and love to cook, but nothing beat the take out at 5pm when you are super hungry and dont want to wash a bunch of dishes afterwards.

                Your comment make me feel like Im such an anti fan, while I am not. So I feel like I need to set the record straight. And Im still standing on my ground about James messing up our order that night. Even for bad thai food, its worse.
                My friend even thought James didnt like her (being that we are vietnamese, and asians are funny with each other), so she checked with another Thai person at her work. Fortunately, I and that person convinced her that he was just too busy chatting with old friends/customer, that he forgot about the salt. And believe me, my friend like salty stuff. She would out extra salt or soy sauce on anything. When I pass something up for being salty, she would happily consume it.
                I was the one who said come back in a little while and give them another chance, because I really like Thai Food, and I hope James is up to what you guys were raving about. I do. So please dont think of me as some evil person who dont know what Im talking about - because I do.
                And, if you have had Thai food in D.C. or Calif. then you will know what im talking about

              2. re: black.lily

                Black Lily,
                We didn’t mean to strongly endorse Thai King based on our first visit. I was just trying to indicate that I’m encouraged or hopeful and that I found the people very likable. As you say, a regular place takes a while to work out their kinks, but I think (actually, I know) Thai King is having even more startup problems than the average place. But, this is understandable given that it’s their first own restaurant.

                I went back yesterday and it was better than when I ate at their pre-opening, and I anticipate it will be even better the next time. I’m not forecasting they ever totally will blow away all other places in town, and of course I’ll never expect them to achieve wonderful Thai home/street cooking levels. Just to be more clear, this time around.

                My fried rice (luckily?) was not too salty. My pad thai, the second time around, had nice texture to the noodles, but both times it was too sweet, as you also experienced. I didn’t have lime juice but I added my own rice vinegar, and that did the trick for me. The spice levels are a bit of lottery. Some medium orders are nuclear, and some hot orders are mild…

                Anyway, I hope you give them another chance, say, next month. I realize that their prices aren’t exactly student friendly, but you usually get two meals out of one order, assuming you like what you got in the first place. Please write a follow up review (and some reviews of other places, too, if you would). Cheers

                1. re: black.lily

                  I generally agree with boagman on this place, and I speak from experience (I lived in Thailand for 2 years, and am used to the real thing when it comes to Thai food - I also have a Thai boss - oops, wife - and she agrees with me on this place). Thai King is the closest to authentic Thai food I have tasted here. I've known Kittisak (James real name) for around 15 years - I first met him when he was a monk (before his stint at Pi's in Hazel Park). His Pad Thai is really good, and three other dishes I heartily recommend are Pad Kee Mao (N3), Pad Bai Krapraow (R4) and Gaeng Pa Pak (R6). Next time I go there, I'll try the Tom Yum (which is not supposed to be sweet - the one thing I disagree with boagman a little).

                  Oh yes, this is directly to black.lily. If you are from Vietnam, that country doesn't really border Thailand. Only Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, China & Malaysia truly border Thailand. And as for Pad Thai, you are not strictly correct when you say Pad Thai needs to have tamarind paste. It helps, but it is not necessary. And I'll bet that the Tom Yum will have the lemon grass and Kaffir Lime Leaves in it when I go to try it (you are right when you say these are major ingredients).

                  1. re: shiskabob

                    I am not sure about "not stricly correct". But then again, pad thai is a street food, so one version may differ from another, and I wont argue with you about that. But I'm sure pad thai couldn't be loaded with sugar like the one I had.

                    And guys, I do not want to attack Thai King or James. I paid for my food and I expected good food, which was not what I get, so I think I can leave the review which explain my (bad) experience. I know many of you adore Thai King, and I dont want to alter your mind or anything. I just didnt expect this much attack for one different opinion.

                    Yes Thailand doesnt really boder Vietnam. But I have seen plenty of Thais and eat enough Thai food to say in confident I have had better.

                    You can make sure he has whatever you want there, since you explained your friendship. For me, at the moment, I still enjoys what I make at home - with all the ingredients and no one will yell at me when I say the food sucks. Yes, I say my food sucks when it does.

                      1. re: black.lily

                        It may be that you went to Thai King when they first opened - I can assure you that their Pad Thai is not super sweet now. And to me, as a former 2-year resident of Thailand, it is the closest thing to real Thai food I have had (and I have been to many restaurants in LA as well - not so many in New York).

                        Off the topic - I also like Vietnamese food - there is one dish (bo xao ca ot) that I often order at Pho Hang (the restaurant next door to Kim Nhung's store) at 13 Mile & Dequindre), and that is the place I'll go to when I do not feel like going further to Thai King.

                        Pho Hang Restaurant
                        30921 Dequindre Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071

                        1. re: shiskabob

                          Give Que Huong or Thuy Trang a try too. I prefer those 2 for cleanliness, and taste. Que Huong has gotten pricey now, but they are the cleanest of them all. And they are not that far away from Pho Hang. :)

                          If you ever go to Lansing, please look for La Mai Thai food. The lady who owns the restaurant immigrated from Thailand decades ago, but her food is the most authentic and tasteful things I have ever had. She is a dedicated Buddist, too. If you ever get to have her buffet, you will know why I was so disappointed here in Detroit. Maybe one day I will just travel there just for La Mai's tom kha.

                          Pho Hang Restaurant
                          30921 Dequindre Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071

                          Thuy Trang Restaurant
                          30491 John R Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071

                          Que Huong Restaurant
                          30820 John R Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071

                          1. re: black.lily

                            I know Lamai - as well as many of the Thai folks in Lansing. She probably has the best remaining Thai restaurant there (The best one used to be Bangkok House on the corner of Saginaw and Cedar, but the owner, Prasert, sold out and moved to Chicago many years ago). I've heard that a relatively new place, Thai Princess (near Meridian Mall) is supposed to be good, but have not tried it out. Actually, the best Thai food in the Lansing area can be had at the local Thai Buddhist temple (Beardslee Rd, near Perry) whenever they have a festival, with many people (including Lamai) coming to sell their wares to raise money for the temple.

                            As for Vietnamese places, I have not been to Que Houng since they took over from the sandwich place that used to be there (it was originally a Thai restaurant, owned by the folks who run Sala Thai), and have not tried Thuy Trang (we will try that place someday soon). I'll stick with Pho Hang in spite of the cleanliness issue, since my wife and I both like Kim Nhung's next door grocery - much better than the Vietnamese store near to Thuy Trang.

                            Pho Hang Restaurant
                            30921 Dequindre Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071

                            Thuy Trang Restaurant
                            30491 John R Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071

                            Bangkok House
                            420 E Saginaw St Ste 112, Lansing, MI 48906

                            1. re: shiskabob

                              I have never gotten a chance to go to the festival yet. But I'm sure you are right, the best Thai cook are the mom and pop who may not own any restaurants.
                              I love La Mai! She has a character and so do her food. So if you know her you will know what I mean. Her salad dishes are to die for.

                              Dont eat sandwiches at Que Huong, they are bleh. Yeah I agree, Kim Nhung is the biggest grocer in this area for Vietnamese food; they have been around for a long time. Their sandwiches used to rock my socks but now they start to skim, oh well.

                              Que Huong Restaurant
                              30820 John R Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071

                  2. Tried Thai King today, finally! Overall, I have mixed feelings. Flavors tend to be good, but the overall composition of the dishes isn't quite at the level I expect from Thai food. Here's a run-down of the dishes I tried.

                    1. Yum Neau (sliced beef salad, $12.99, ordered "hot")
                    This was the best dish of the day. The sauce really makes this dish -- garlicky, sweet, sour, spicy. The beef was tender, though a bit thick. My main complaint with this dish, though, is the composition -- they used iceberg lettuce and rough-chopped green onion, instead of the more traditional basil leaf, mint leaf, and cilantro. Those herbs would have really elevated the flavor and intensity of this dish. Chopped peanuts or other such textural components were also absent (although peanuts are shown in the staged menu photo).

                    2. Pad See Ewe (~$8, with tofu, ordered "medium")
                    Really, really disappointing. Sauce was completely unbalanced -- way too sweet, not enough acidity, and very heavy on the noodles. There was WAY too much noodle, and not enough greens (gai lan and American broccoli were involved). Appropriate amount of tofu. Thin rice noodles, not the wide glutinous sheets like Thai Taste and Tongue Thai'd use. Not enough spice. I didn't eat much of this because the sauce was just so unpleasant.

                    3. Basil Fried Rice (3rd fried rice listed, with chicken, ordered "medium")
                    Spice level was appropriate, and the rice wasn't greasy (unlike many Thai restaurants' fried rice). Nice chicken:rice ratio. A little lacking on the basil flavor, but the chili paste flavor was prominent and enjoyable.

                    Overall, I highly recommend the yum neau, especially since it's hard to find at other local Thai restaurants. But I'm definitely not going to rush back for the noodle dishes or the fried rice. I might go back to try a curry, but am not too hyped to do so after this first experience.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: jjspw

             JJ: what was the problem with the fried rice, then? Just that the basil wasn't as strong as you'd have liked for it to have been? That's about the only thing I can see from your description that was remotely disappointing about that.

                      I still plan to get back there myself, but only when I'm in the area.

                      1. re: boagman

                        Yes, the weakness of the basil was the only "problem" with dish. The flavor was fine, but it could've easily passed as one of the other fried rice offerings (those that did not include basil).

                        I guess that fried rice may have been the most well-executed of the three dishes I tried (or that with the least problems, maybe). But I just enjoyed the sauce on the yum neau so much, which is why I chose it over the fried rice as my favorite of the dishes I tried.

                        1. re: jjspw

                          This seems to be the second time they're short on the basil side, though the first time they weren't officially open. Wonder if that's going to be a common theme from here on out? I sure hope not...

                          1. re: boagman

                            Yes, I remember you had commented on lack of basil flavor in the spicy noodle dish. Considering your experience, and the three dishes I had today, I think the common theme may be a very limited use of HERBS to really illuminate and elevate the dish.

                            It was the case with my yum neau. My pad see ewe could have used a ton more gai lan (not technically an herb, I know, but sort of plays a similar role in that dish). Plus, your spicy noodle and my fried rice.

                            IIRC, Pi's wasn't big on using a lot of fresh herbs, either. [Please correct me if I'm wrong -- I may have said earlier that I didn't dine there frequently at all, maybe 3 times ever.] Perhaps James learned at Pi's this way, and has stuck to those techniques?