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Aug 23, 2011 09:17 AM

There HAS to be a good Thai restaurant here...

I was recently in Mississippi visiting my folks, and we stopped through Hattiesburg, surprisingly stumbling across one of the best Thai restaurants I've ever visited. The chef/owner worked at Essex House in NY for 15 years under Alain Ducasse, and now owns an amazing little spot in bum**** Mississippi.

So why don't we have any good places here in Austin? First of all, I have one fault in my logic... I often judge a Thai place by their Pad Thai, one of the most American-friendly dishes. That said, it's always seemed to be a good barometer. Places like Thai Passion and Madam Mam's present a completely chile-coated, orange glop of a dish; the good stuff should be light brown and not overpowering. You should be able to tasted the tamarind, peanuts, bean sprouts and cilantro. I love hot, but making the dish about heat and only heat is just wrong. Believe it or not, my Pad Thai test usually works though; if the Pad Thai's good at a restaurant, the rest is usually great, too.

The best PT I've had in town has been from Java Noodles (which unfortunately doesn't really offer any other Thai dishes) and Subsin's, a grungy little place on Manchaca that a Thai friend recommended as the best Thai place in town. I'm never really down in that area though, and I'm not even sure if it's still open.

The place in MS had a great dish with shrimp cooked in spicy sambal-ish sauce, garnished with tiny slivers of kaffir lime leaves. It was delicious. In a town where we have almost every other Asian cuisine represented, there HAS to be a good Thai place that I'm overlooking... recommendations, anyone? I'd like to find somewhere that's got some more interesting things than your typical fare, but I'd settle for some good PT, Nuea Pad Prik and Tom Kha.

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  1. On that note, I just checked the Fearless Critic and Titaya's got No.1. Anybody been there? Madam Mam's got No.2, which I just don't get. I've had some good dishes there and all, but it's not Thai food. It's just Asian fusion, in my opinion.

    5 Replies
    1. re: popvulture

      Titaya's is very good. I'm not an expert on Thai food, but it's my favorite in town.

      1. re: popvulture

        Have you had any thai food in austin that you liked, anywhere (other than PT at Java Noodles)? I've never been to Thailand, unfortunately, so I can't say that I'm an expert. I do know that I love Madam Mam's, as do you all. The funny thing is: I don't adore their pad thai and I don't like their Tom Kha (too much coconut/too thick and rich for me). I totally understand "barometer dishes," but mainly, I go for the most interesting and flavorful dish that I see at thai places. Usually, I'm disappointed when a menu has the same 20 or so dishes that you see at most strip mall type thai restaurants. I never order tom kha or curries cause they are so easy to make at home.

        Titaya's has a very loyal following. It is near my house and I've had good meals there. You might try it. It is more expensive than Madam Mam's:

        The only place I break my curry rule is for some of Madam Mam's special curries, which are made in house (rather than the prepared Maesri that every other restaurant uses). There's no way I can make those at home!

        Java Noodles Restaurant
        2400 E Oltorf St Ste 14, Austin, TX 78741

        1. re: rudeboy

          I've also found that choosing the good ol' standby dishes at Mam's doesn't turn out so well. Best to pick something more unique. The Chu Chee Salmon is super good.

        2. re: popvulture

          There is definitely nothing fusion about Madam Mam's. It is a point of pride for the owners, Sap and Mam, that their recipes have not been Americanized. What you will get in their restaurant are the same dishes, prepared in the same manner as she served them in Bangkok not too many years ago.
          Chiles (or chili powder) in Pad Thai is a regional variation, but I don't remember Madam Mam's adding chile to theirs. It's certainly not orange colored glop - you must be thinking of a different restaurant.

          1. re: Alan Sudo

            It's certainly (and most likely) possible that, having never been to Thailand, I really don't know what I'm talking about. I could've just grown up on "strip mall Thai." Not sure why, but Madam Mam's just usually leaves me feeling a little disappointed. It's such a machine getting people in and out as fast as possible, and the waitstaff aren't very nice. I'll give it another chance though.

        3. Mam's is the most authentic Thai food in town, and I would encourage you to visit Thailand and eat actual Thai food to compare. There is nothing the least bit "fusion" about Mam's menu. Titaya's would be better if they could kick their red bell pepperhabit.....not the least bit authentic, and used to stretch a dish's volume with cheap veggies that idiot Americans think are the real thing. You never see red bell peppers used in Thailand, unless you go to an Italian resto in one of the big cities......

          6 Replies
          1. re: chowmick

            ...put more simply, there is excellent Thai food in just don't know how to recognize it.

            1. re: chowmick

              Well enlighten me then, if you don't mind. I'll admit that going to a Thai restaurant and judging it based on their Pad Thai is like going to a Chinese place and judging it on the General Tso's, but like I said, it's proven to be an uncanny testing method as far as I'm concerned. I don't know why.

              I'd like to think I know how to recognize good Thai food, actually. Living in NY for 7 years, you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a Thai restaurant, almost to the point that it was annoying. Every new place... "what's it gonna be? S***, it's another Thai restaurant with a water feature and a DJ." I've had TONS of different dishes, so don't discount me on the pad thai comment.

              Seriously, though. I just haven't had jack for good Thai here, and it's always baffled me. I will try Titaya's though, for sure. And I have nothing against Madam Mam's- I think it's good and all, but it has a blurry identity as far as the menu goes (not all Thai) and it's constantly packed with an all white lunch crowd. I'm white, but I wanna know where the Thai people eat. Of course that might sound horsey to some people, but usually I use a restaurant's ethnicity compared to the amount of people of said ethnicity eating there as a pretty faithful measuring stick.

              1. re: popvulture

                and the "not all Thai" comment about Mam's isn't meant to discount it at all, but it just seems a lot less authentic than a lot of places I've been to. Like I said, feels more Asian fusion-y.

                1. re: popvulture

                  Let's consider some of the menu item descriptions at Madam Mam's.


                  Personally, I love how they describe every damn item in the dish. It isn't dumbed down to "exotic thai sauce" or "with thai spices."

                  The only things that one could consider "fusion," and maybe that's what best remembered on a visit or two, are the pad macaroni and macaroni soup, dishes with penne pasta.

                  Who else has Kao Soi (p15)? I'm just waiting patiently for the outside temp to fall below 100 so I can enjoy it!

                  1. re: rudeboy

                    i completely agree with Everything you've said in this post. i actually despise the pad thai at madam mams, but the special curries are the way to go, along with the tom khlong and kao soi. you really need to know what to order at madam mams, cuz some of the dishes Aren't so great...

                    btw, the now-closed thai tara used to have a kao soi, but their related restaurant IM Thai also has it on their menu, though i haven't tried it...

                    1. re: abidonfood

                      I discovered another dish when I had my brithday dinner there. It was one of these two, based on my flavor memory, I'm 98% sure it was the latter (someone else ordered):

                      Pla Nueng Manow One lb.of Tilapia filet steamed w/Thai pepper, pickled garlic, lime and fish sauce, very hot & spicy.
                      Served w/rice.

                      Pla Jian One lb.of lightly fried Tilapia filet topped w/sweet and sour tamarind sauce (palm sugar, fish sauce and tamarind)
                      and shredded fresh ginger, jalapeno and green onion .Served w/rice.

                      ANyhow, everyone who tried it just went on about it....

          2. I like Muang Thai on 183 near Lakeline Blvd. I think the Tom Kha is excellent, but I've never tried the pad thai.

            1. i love thai food, but my "true thai" experience is limited to a former room-mate.
              he used to make things at home, or order for me at his restaurant-job.
              my few visits to madam mam's didn't wow me, but maybe i don't know what to order.

              since a trip to thailand is not in my immediate future, i signed up for a cooking class.
              anyone have any input on thai fresh they would like to share?

              4 Replies
              1. re: dinaofdoom

                Hey - where is the cooking class, and by whom is it taught? I took one years ago from Foo Sawasdee. Really interesting and informative. Although, I'm not fond of Satay..

                1. re: rudeboy

                  it's at thai fresh (on west mary), and taught by jam santichat.

                  i chose the "thai favorites", which is on a saturday and runs for 1 1/2 hours:
                  Coconut Soup with Chicken and mushrooms
                  Pad Thai w/ Tofu and shrimp
                  Red Curry w/ chicken and seasonal vegetables
                  Sticky Rice and Mango


                2. re: dinaofdoom

                  I've taken two classes at Thai Fresh and enjoyed them both. They are much more "hands on" rather than demonstration and so more interesting and, at least to my way of learning such things, better.
                  I took a class similar to the one you have signed up for last year and another, Thai curries, this year. I liked the second a bit better, mostly because it gave me the confidence to get out my big granite mortar and start making Thai curries from scratch.

                  The only downside to the classes is that Jam is sometimes not as "rehearsed" as she might be, leading to some lost time or confusion. The upside is that she is a good teacher and the classes are very relaxed and informal. Since you also get to eat what you make and often there is enough to take home, I recommend them.

                  Let us all know how your class turned out and how the remodeling is coming along at Thai Fresh. They are supposed to be turning their "deli-like" business into a restaurant.

                  1. re: akachochin

                    thanks for the info.
                    i am looking forward to it.
                    and she told me to bring containers, so i am definitely going to.
                    also, classes are no longer BYOB, because they sell beer & wine next door at thrice.

                3. I notice that nobody has mentioned Thai Kitchen. I happen to love the place, so call me crazy, but to substantiate my claim I rely on my daughter's recent email from Thailand where she is vacationing. She said the Thai food in Austin is very close to that found in Thailand, especially the Phat Thai, and since the only place she likes here is also Thai Kitchen, I have to assume that it is close to authentic. My idea of an amazing meal is to start with an order of Thai sandwiches (I prefer pork). Next I crave their Chicken Wings, just an amazingly sweet, messy mixture of hot and sweet, I think there are molasses in there but I don't really know. Next I order the number 11 peanut soup (you find it under noodles). I ask them to make it with the sin me noodles which I'm sure I spelled wrong, but they are extremely thin and make the soup even more delectible. From here, if I'm not full, which I generally am, I eat their phat thai, which I love. If I'm feeling more adventurous I order something from the really hot part of the menu, something like Tiger Cry or Hurts So Good. I really love the place, although I guess I'm in the minority.

                  Thai Kitchen
                  3009 Guadalupe St, Austin, TX 78705

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: gntlmn6464

                    I almost mentioned Thai Kitchen as having my favorite version of Tom Kha. I like to get it in the firepot. The last time I went there, years ago, I was impressed by how spicy the dishes actually were (which is a good thing).

                    Thai Kitchen
                    3103 S Fort Hood St, Killeen, TX 76542