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Apr 30, 2011 06:21 AM

Exploring Thai 2011 (Long)

I’m just getting into Thai. I’m kicking myself for being so late but I tend to fixate on one cuisine for a while and am just getting around to Thai. Trying to make up for lost time I’ve eaten 12 meals at 8 Thai restaurants in the last three and a half weeks. Now that I’ve gotten some bearings and a little familiarity I’d appreciate some recommendations about where to go next and what to try.

Following is a rundown of the meals I’ve had in order from the most impressive to least impressive; this is not a ranking of restaurants, just meals. The restaurants were chosen based on reputation, proximity to where I live and a whim. The dishes were mostly chosen on a whim - whatever looked good to me. Mostly I’ve stuck with the curries with and without coconut mik since I’ve been eating lot of Indian lately and it was easy to compare and contrast, but I’ve had the papaya salad twice, larb once, and 2 small samples of the soups on lunch specials. I have not had any noodle dishes.

This lacks much detail as I have a lot to learn. If you’re familiar with any of these restaurants, what did I miss, what are the best dishes. Or what restaurants are comparable or better. What’s your favorite Thai dish, what’s your favorite Thai restaurant in town and why.

V’s Thai - Green curry pork blew me away. On the lunch plate with a small cup of soup with chicken that was also very good but I’m not sure what it was. On a second visit the Phat King (?), pork and vegetables in a ginger sauce, was not as impressive nor was the soup.

Vieng Thai - Gang Pa - pork in a red curry paste (no Coconut milk), I really like the restaurant and the food. Thai Iced Tea was also the best I’ve had. On a second visit, E-sarn sausage and Larb (beef); again a good meal.

Nidda Thai - Pad Prick Khing - chicken in red curry paste; small cup of soup with tofu, fresh roll. This place and Vieng were basically on a par with each other and the edge goes to Vieng just because I’ve been there twice but the Pad Prick Khing was one of the two best dishes I’ve had along with the Green Curry Pork at V’s.

Kanomwan - Gang Pah - beef in red curry paste. I was impressed that the dish had the most diverse ingredients but compared to all I’ve read about this restaurant over the years I was underwhelmed, but only a little.

Fu Lu Su - Missouri City - second closest Thai restaurant to me so I wanted to check it out. A dive, home-style rather than haute cooking, huge portions and good if not great so far, but there is a problem with an odor due to a dog clinic next door so I’ll only do takeout. A very sweet older Thai lady does it all here. Green Curry Chicken, Sum Tom salad (best of the two I’ve had), Pud Prick King chicken (not as good as Nidda - she spells it as Pud throughout her menu).

Asia Market - Green Curry Chicken - very little chicken and undercooked, almost raw eggplant gave my stomach a lot of problems. The spiciest dish I’ve had.

Thai Spice Express on Bellaire - closest Thai to me so I wanted to check it out. Spicy seafood salad was good but Shrimp with Lemon Grass had a couple of shrimp that should have gone in the dumpster, I think.

Thai Lanna - obviously I’m not an authority but this was the most Americanized I’d say, the only thing that impressed was the peanut sauce with the soft spring rolls.

I’ll go back to all except probably Thai Lanna but Asia Market and Kanomwan are the farthest away so I’ll probably concentrate on others closer for the time being.

Thanks for any comments and suggestions.

Fu Lu Su Restaurant
2487 Cartwright Rd, Missouri City, TX 77459

Thai Lanna Restaurant
1714 West Loop N, Houston, TX 77008

Thai Spice Express
8282 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

Vieng Thai
6929 Long Point Rd, Houston, TX 77055

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  1. Great write-up.

    There's another place frequently recommended to me right across Dairy Ashford from V's called Thai Lily.

    I've been to the Westheimer/Briarpark location of a small local chain called Thai Cottage. (Recommended by our own Lambowner.)

    Next to James Coney Island where Bering dead ends into Westheimer is Thai Restaurant. It's pretty good.

    I'll be watching for others.

    1. Well, you didn't mention pad Thai. Not sure if you didn't consider it worthy of mention because it's so ubiquitous, or if you haven't had it yet. I know the latter seems extremely unlikely since it's undoubtedly the number-one dish most-ordered by Westerners, to the point that many discussions of Thai food begin by saying something derisive like, "Have an adventuresome-enough palate to try something other than pad Thai."

      So, while I hate to recommend the obvious, on the off chance that you're not familiar with it, I think I should. I eat at Thai restaurants a lot and often take friends that don't eat as much Thai as I do, and the pad Thai is always their safety net. I'll admit, I love it, too, with an extra sprinkle of peanuts, a few squeezes of lime, and a small puddle of chilli oil on the side of the plate. And speaking of chilli oil, most Thai restaurants have a little serving tray of various hot sauces and oils that frequently they do not even bring out to tables that have Westerners only. You have to ask for it. Do that.

      My favorite soup in the world is the Tom Kah Gai - spelled various ways on English menus, but it's the iconic hot chicken & coconut milk soup. I first had it years ago, and after that first time, had a bit of difficulty remembering the name. But then I thought of my nephew, Tom, who is a sort of an automobile aficionado. Hence "Tom Car Guy." Not the exact pronunciation (the second word has no "r"), but close enough that I never forgot the name again.

      Most of the Thai restaurants where I've been have a sampler appetizer platter. I'd strongly suggest a neophyte order it. They usually have the cheese rolls on it, some other sort of egg rolls, dumplings, and maybe a couple of skewers of satay, another one of my very favorite dishes in the whole world. After you try that sampler plate, you can select which of the things you like the best.

      I know that there's at least one Thai buffet in town - also a good place for an introduction to Thai food. I used to live a few blocks from the Thai Spice Buffet and I went there at least once a week or more to grab a quick, inexpensive and tasty lunch. I wouldn't rhapsodize blissfully about the food, but it was darn serviceable. And some things they did extremely well (pad Thai wasn't one of them).

      I will say that although I went there often when I lived nearby, and enjoyed it very much, since I've moved to Katy, I haven't driven back into town to go to Thai Spice Buffet.

      I have, however, to go to Thai Gourmet on Richmond. It's my favorite (keeping in mind that I haven't lived in Houston all that long, and haven't tried many of the best-known places). They have a really wonderful combination appetizer - "Appetizer Tray." There is a lot of stuff on it, easily enough for a meal for one.

      I'd also suggest you get a copy of the Quick & Easy Thai cookbook by Nancie McDermott: The recipes really are quick and easy, but even if you don't cook from it, it's a fun and easy book to peruse to learn more about the cuisine.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Jaymes

        I'm fully in agreement on the Tom Kha Gai - it's delicious and something I'll go for if I'm feeling a little sluggish. I find the soups that many ethnic restaurants serve to be a great indicator to the quality of their overall menu. I'm mildly surprised that anyone would consider going back to any restaurant that served bad shrimp or underdone chicken - must want an exciting but short life I guess.

        1. re: kagemusha49

          It's really terrific, isn't it? So many nuances and layers of flavor. One of the world's great dishes, I think.

      2. Thanks for the replies. I had seen Thai Lily and wondered about it and also heard of Thai Cottage; Thai Restaurant may be a new one on me. We have a large collection of places to choose from; b4 lists 90 or so, Urbanspoon 112, I think. I'm sure no one has tried them all and knows without question what is the best.

        Jaymes - no I have not had Pad Thai. I had read that it's not a very adventurous offering so --- well, you get my drift. I think I've also read it's not really that popular in Thailand and is more of a Western dish?

        I think the buffet is the same company as Thai Spice Express. The latter is the closest to me and first (and second) place I went to - a good starter place. Counter service with a big menu board covering the back wall with big pictures of the dishes! It was easy to pick something to try based on appearance instead of having to struggle to understand menu descriptions. I've used buffets many times to become familiar with new cuisines but with my small appetite, I don't get very far.

        Soups and stews are one of the things I love to do at home and I'm pretty good at it so I seldom want to pay someone else to make one for me or use up my small appetite at a restaurant on one. I usually don't pay any attention to appetizer, soup or dessert portions of menus and only have soup if it comes as part of a meal, as it did at V's and Nidda, but I will certainly keep in mind your recommendations. It sounds like something I definitely should try. All three small samples of soups that I had were clear broths sans coconut milk so I'm sure I haven't had that one.

        I hadn't noticed these appetizer platters so I'll definitely be looking for that and I do appreciate the specific recommendation of a Thai cookbook.

        Edit to add: Jaymes, I've looked at the menu for Thai Gourmet and I think that may be the next place I try. I see there are a couple of the duck offerings on the lunch menu so I'll try one of those.

        Thai Lily Cafe
        2390 S Dairy Ashford St, Houston, TX 77077

        Thai Spice Express
        8282 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

        14 Replies
        1. re: brucesw

          You really must get a small cup of that soup. It's not particularly filling, and it's a taste like no other. It's also fairly easy to make at home, so if you like it, you've got another soup you can make.

          As far as the pad Thai - "pad" means noodles, so it's just noodles Thai style. Seems like most Asian countries have their noodle dish. The Chinese have lo mein, the Filipinos have pancit. And the Thais have pad Thai. Rice is the preferred starch in Asian cuisines, so these noodle dishes seem to be served at home as cheap, everyday meals when you want a break from rice. Pad Thai may not represent the epitome of the finest art of Thai cookery but, as for its popularity there, while I don't know exactly how popular it is or is not, I have been to Thailand and did see actual Thais eating it. Just because a certain dish appeals to Western tastes doesn't necessarily mean that the Thais don't eat it and like it, too, even if it's not their most beloved.

          Sooner or later, my friend....

          Of course, you might want to wait on that until you go with a less-adventuresome companion. He/she will undoubtedly order it, and most Thai restaurants serve things family-style, so you can try it then.

          However, with some of that hot chilli sauce stirred in, it can be pretty darn adventuresome.

          1. re: Jaymes

            Correcting myself...

            Some years back, a friend told me that Pad, or "Phat" or other such similar stuff meant "noodles" in Thai. She, however, was not Thai, so before I wrote that, I should have double-checked, which I now have done.

            Noodles in Thai is actually "Guai-tiaw."

            Doing a little googling, it looks like "Pad" or "Phat" actually means "fried."

            My bad.

            And thinking a little more about Pad Thai - as I recall, when I was in Thailand, Pad Thai was also a popular street food in Bangkok, anyway, with many vendors hawking it from their noodle carts. Seemed like it was also a favorite of the late-night bar crowd, after the bars closed.

            I don't know for sure exactly how popular is the lowly Pad Thai in Thailand, but I definitely saw folks eating it there, and I like it. I suspect you would, too.

            1. re: Jaymes

              Yes, I was going to say my understanding is that Pad means stir fried although I may have thought it meant noodles until I tried the Pad Prick Khing; there were no noodles in that either time I tried it. BTW, I understand Prick means chilli pepper. Those are my first two Thai words.

              What I've heard many times is 'Pad Thai is a noodle dish.' It is usually listed under noodles if not house specialties and I haven't had any noodle dishes if I didn't mention that above.

              I'm sure I will get around to sampling it some day and may love it.

              Is the soup good for when you're under the weather? That's about the only time I usually go for a soup as a separate order. But I will try it sooner or later, nonetheless, on your strong recommendation. One meal at a time, though.

              1. re: brucesw

                That soup is known for its curative properties! Robb Walsh wrote on that once too. I'm glad to hear V is not seedy. I had gone back to read that review after reading about V here and wasn't all that excited about the prospect!

                1. re: Lambowner

                  It is not seedy by my standards but yours may differ. Also, I've only been for lunch when there was nobody at the bar. In the evening, the ambiance may be significantly different.

                  Nothing wrong with poking your head in and leaving if it doesn't suit you. Or do take-out. I've posted scans of the Take-Out menu on Urbanspoon:


                  1. re: brucesw

                    Thanks! Yet another restaurant that closes on Saturday for lunch. This is our preferred time for dining out. Smaller portions, smaller prices, smaller crowds than at night, better service.

          2. re: brucesw

            PS - Bruce -

            Regarding dining out and wanting to try new things with your "small appetite."

            My current situation results in my eating out by myself fairly frequently. What I do is to order whatever I want to try, and ask them to please bring out the "to go" boxes WITH the meal. Then I put tastes of this and that onto my plate, and immediately box up the rest, before I've eaten out of it. That way, not only does it look more appetizing, but the saliva does not get started doing its destructive duty, so I can bring it home to share if I want, or to keep in the fridge for me.

            The first time I went to Thai Gourmet, I ordered enough for a family of five. Tried everything that looked tasty or interesting. Boxed up at least 90% of it and took it home. I had delicious meals ready-to-go for a week and had tried enough dishes that I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the restaurant and some clear favorites had emerged (the green curry with duck being one of them).

            Thai Gourmet
            6324 Richmond Ave, Houston, TX 77057

            1. re: Jaymes

              Call me mundane, but I love a good pad thai with shrimp and a bottle of Sriracha on the side. I MUST get to V, It's one of those that I keep forgetting about. Im making a note now.

              1. re: Lambowner

                Well, with sriracha? Now we're talking. LOL. Eat whatever you like and as I say I may love it once I try it. And I don't always want something adventurous, sometimes the furthest thing from it.

                I thought it was a little unfortunate that Robb Walsh's original review of V's made it sound like a seedy bar. Perhaps they have remodeled since then but I didn't find it seedy at all. It is a bar, though, and a little cheesy, but not seedy!

                Walsh mentioned that there was country music playing when he was there and they said it was by request of a client but both times I've been there it's been country on the sound system and the second time I was there I had the place to myself up until half way through the meal.

                I hope you like it.

              2. re: Jaymes

                That's an interesting strategy and one I will certainly keep in mind, particularly when I'm dining a long way away from home and, with the price of gas these days, don't want to have to make multiple trips to sample several dishes. And now I will know not to be alarmed this Thursday if you start ordering multiple dishes at El Real : ).

                I have numerous times ordered a second meal or at least entree to go toward the end of a meal, sometimes asking for the to-go containers for what I'm eating at the same time, but never multiple dishes. At Emporio one time, so unimpressed with what I had ordered, fortunately only a light meal, I ordered the feijoada to go and went right home and feasted on the beans and put the rest in the fridge.

                My strategies are to eat out almost exclusively at lunch when portions are smaller and, if the plate obviously has too much food, mentally divide the portions and eat half of everything before asking for the to-go boxes. I wind up with lots of leftovers, anyway, too many crowd my refrigerator sometimes and I wind up throwing stuff out. Close to home, I do take-out a lot of the time if I can get home in 10 minutes or so when the food will still be fresh. Doesn't work with Indian, though, if you're getting naan. Naan doesn't survive even 5 minutes wrapped up in foil.

                1. re: brucesw

                  i've tried all the thai restaurants you and others have listed. Nidda had been my favorite and honestly,, couldn't quite understand all the fuss about kanomwan and thought it was pretty overrated and weak.. Another favorite has been Thai Bistro on the 59 feeder/buffalo speedway where the ingredients are fresh and flavorful... But,, my new fav thai restaurant isn't in Houston,,, its a drive away but well worth the trip to Nara in Humble (trust me,, i'm 5 minutes from Nidda!).. Up until a decade ago i always used Pad Thai as a measuring stick to compare other thai restaurants.. In time, Pad Thai had became so bland i've now use another dish as the new performance bar when judging the competition.. If and when you make it to Nara try their version Pad Kee Mao (pan-fried with flat rice noodles, bell pepper, broccoli, carrot, tomatoes and thai basil leaves in a chili garlic sauce). Also, try the Larb Gai,, spicy lettuce wrap containing minced chicken, thai spices, roasted rice powder with lime is outstanding.. The food at Nara is fresh, service is attentive and the prices competitive with the others.. See at Enjoy!!

                  Thai Bistro Restaurant
                  3241 Southwest Fwy, Houston, TX 77027

                  1. re: bornie

                    I remembered your recent thread but I don't think I understood that this was not right down the road from you, i.e., that you lived in Humble or Kingwood. Perhaps there is a road trip in my future sooner rather than later.

                    1. re: brucesw

                      i actually reside in the W Dallas/Waugh area,, but head to humble a couple of x a month. I'm always blown away by the dishes at Nara but esp the ones l listed above. I'm actually working at my desk today and just picked up my noodle dish "to go" from Nidda.. All the talk about Thai food got the juices flowin!

                      1. re: bornie

                        Funny how that happens!

                        And, Air, you may not be an "expert" by your standards, but by mine, you're certainly well on your way. I appreciate the time and trouble you've taken here.

            2. Happy to hear you've started this adventure!

              E-Sarn sounds like Issan Sausage? Seems to me every Issan place calls it something different and it never occured to me Vieng Thai is specializing in Issan food. I never really gained an appreciation for that region of Thai food until I'd left Houston and they are back on my to-visit list next time I'm home.

              I probably sound like I"m speaking a whole nother language Bruce, but to arm yourself with more knowledge, read up on regional differences of Thai food too:


              On the subject of region... can anyone name a place that has good khao soi in Houston?

              Jaymes: I'm shocked you even found a single thing Thai Spice did well. I've long given up on them and actively don't recommend going there since majority of the items I've tried there have been WAY too sweet (and this is a common problem that you'll run across many Thai restaurants).

              Regarding the "seedy" part at V's: the whole place has a dark mood appropriate for your typical bar. V does have a group of regulars that always hang out at her bar. They're nice guys that typically keep to themselves and aren't intimidating or anything.

              I just really like V's since she has such a great grasp on balancing and blending multiple flavors, even if there's a limited menu compared to the other places mentioned. This even applies for the exceptionally spicy items and honestly, I feel the food goes from solid to stellar provided you can handle a commendable level of heat.

              Particular hot dishes I recommend are Tiger Cry and Gai Pad Ka Prow (holy basil Thai chicken) with optional nam prik (fish sauce), also ask V if she can do the tilapia with chili sauce, but that's off-menu. Since you haven't had any noodle dishes, I'd say try pad see ew and especially try the pad thai. I say that since it's not too sweet and could give you a good benchmark to compare against others. The tamarind and nutty flavors really come through and in my opinion, definitely no need to add limes.

              Vieng Thai
              6929 Long Point Rd, Houston, TX 77055

              8 Replies
              1. re: air

                Well, on the Thai Spice Buffet, there was always good satay, which I do love. And several curries, one or two usually pretty tasty. And an assortment of dumplings, not sweet. The cheese rolls are sort of junk food, and the dipping sauce is definitely sweet, but I can't help but like them.

                Since it was a buffet and right around the corner from where I lived, I could run in there, get lunch, and be back out in a half-hour, and that's often all I had. Plus, they have a senior citizen discount, so the price was right!

                What can I say... As I note above, now that I'm out in Katy, haven't felt the need to go back.

                And speaking of the Thai basil dishes, one local Thai restaurant has a basil fish dish, I think grouper, that is absolutely fabulous. Would have mentioned it earlier, but to be honest, I can't really remember which restaurant it is.

                When I get to a new town, there's always a "Thai massage parlor." I go in there (much to the surprise of the staff, I might add, since, for those of you that don't know, I'm a chubby, gray-haired granny) and ask them where they eat. And I had done that back when I first moved here. The place the girls recommended was where I tried that basil fish dish. I went to four or five Thai restaurants the first few weeks I lived here, and they've kind of gotten muddled in my head. Does that dish sound at all familiar to you? I'd love to have it again if I could just figure out where it was.

                1. re: Jaymes

                  Was it crispy? It sounds kinda like pad ped pladuk, a whole catfish..


                  Some menus might call it Thai basil catfish or Thai basil fish.

                  I believe the other fish dish I'd mentioned from V's is called pla red prik in Thai.

                  1. re: air

                    Yes, crispy. With an absolutely amazing sauce. I don't guess the exact type of fish matters, really, but I'm sure it wasn't catfish. I honestly think it was grouper. It wasn't the whole fish. It was a boneless fillet, cooked to perfection.

                    Still, I'm sure that the sauce was the main thing and I'm definitely going to go to V's and give that catfish a try.

                    1. re: Jaymes

                      I haven't actually looked at a menu there in a long time, but hey she added it, #29.


                      1. re: air

                        I really want to thank you for taking the time to help me out. I'm going to hit V's, and try that fish as soon as I get a chance.

                        Even if it isn't the dish I remember, I'm sure it will be wonderful.


                        PS - When I was in Thailand, I had something called "Fluffy Catfish Salad" which was a boneless catfish fillet that seemed to have been sort of 'tenderized,' in the manner that we might tenderize a minute steak by running it through something that produced a lattice-like pattern, then coated with something, then deep-fried, and served over a bed of salad.

                        Does that sound familiar?

                        1. re: Jaymes

                          OH! Got it, I think I gotta clarify and may have confused you. There are two different fish dishes being discussed here. Both are crispy fish dishes, but the sauces are not the same.

                          I think this was the dish you had initially inquired about (with the basil)

                          This would be similar to the one at V's (with the chilis

                          1. re: air

                            When I google "Thai grouper basil," I get a lot of responses.

                            Unfortunately, none in Houston that I noticed right away.

                            Still, I know I'm going to enjoy V's, and again, thank you for taking the time to steer me in that direction.

                          2. re: Jaymes

                            Your catfish salad sounds possibly like yum pla dook foo. If you're gonna try finding it in Houston, I'd say try Vieng Thai as it's more of an Issan dish.

                            I'm honestly far from a Thai expert but I really hope I'm helping you find what you're looking for, Jaymes!

                            (ps: both of these blogs are phenomenal, highly detailed resources for trying to cook Thai at home)



                2. Well after 12 meals in 3 and a half weeks I was going to take a breather from Thai but I'm finding myself craving some of that crispy fried fish.

                  air I always turn to the Wikioracle to see what they have to say about new cuisines and the article on Thai is very detailed. They discuss the four regions and list representative dishes of each plus common or shared dishes, etc. Most of it goes over my head at this point since I lack dining experiences to tie it to.

                  I think there were several items on Vieng's menu that I identified as Isan. The website is down but there's a menu (may be dated) on Zagat:


                  There is at least one crispy fish dish, I think.

                  Nidda has fish dishes involving catfish, tilapia, red snapper, pilate fish, and mackerel.


                  Asia Market has the E-sarn sausage too and a crispy fish dish.


                  Had other obligations today but tomorrow I'm doing Thai.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: brucesw

                    I've got my fingers crossed that you order just a small bowl of Tom Kah Gai.

                    1. re: brucesw

                      neutralize your palate with a bowl of mushroom soup from Paulie's... Its killer!