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

popvulture Aug 23, 2011 09:17 AM

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. popvulture RE: popvulture Aug 23, 2011 09:21 AM

    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
      h
      heyzeus212 RE: popvulture Aug 23, 2011 09:41 AM

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

      1. re: popvulture
        rudeboy RE: popvulture Aug 23, 2011 12:23 PM

        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:

        http://titayasthaicuisine.com/Regular...

        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
          popvulture RE: rudeboy Aug 23, 2011 01:14 PM

          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
          Alan Sudo RE: popvulture Aug 23, 2011 01:25 PM

          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
            popvulture RE: Alan Sudo Aug 23, 2011 01:56 PM

            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. c
          chowmick RE: popvulture Aug 23, 2011 12:10 PM

          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
            c
            chowmick RE: chowmick Aug 23, 2011 12:17 PM

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

            1. re: chowmick
              popvulture RE: chowmick Aug 23, 2011 01:08 PM

              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
                popvulture RE: popvulture Aug 23, 2011 01:11 PM

                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
                  rudeboy RE: popvulture Aug 23, 2011 08:33 PM

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

                  http://madammam.com/MenuRegular.pdf
                  http://madammam.com/MenuSpecial.pdf

                  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
                    abidonfood RE: rudeboy Aug 25, 2011 01:46 AM

                    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
                      rudeboy RE: abidonfood Aug 25, 2011 05:35 AM

                      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. v
            verily RE: popvulture Aug 23, 2011 12:40 PM

            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. dinaofdoom RE: popvulture Aug 23, 2011 09:09 PM

              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
                rudeboy RE: dinaofdoom Aug 24, 2011 05:17 AM

                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
                  dinaofdoom RE: rudeboy Aug 24, 2011 11:11 AM

                  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:
                  $65
                  Coconut Soup with Chicken and mushrooms
                  Pad Thai w/ Tofu and shrimp
                  Red Curry w/ chicken and seasonal vegetables
                  Sticky Rice and Mango

                  http://thai-fresh.com/index2.html

                2. re: dinaofdoom
                  a
                  akachochin RE: dinaofdoom Aug 25, 2011 08:25 AM

                  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
                    dinaofdoom RE: akachochin Aug 25, 2011 08:43 AM

                    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. g
                  gntlmn6464 RE: popvulture Aug 24, 2011 07:27 AM

                  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
                    rudeboy RE: gntlmn6464 Aug 24, 2011 12:38 PM

                    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

                  2. c
                    conquer RE: popvulture Aug 26, 2011 01:14 PM

                    Sorry, there's no authentic Thai food in or around Austin. (PT is American-Thai anyway.)

                    Not that talent is lacking, just most Austinites probably wouldn't eat it (not to mention fish heads, pork necks, grasshoppers etc).

                    Try Houston or Dallas, *maybe*.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: conquer
                      rudeboy RE: conquer Aug 26, 2011 03:18 PM

                      There's probably no authentic american food here either...I mean, I can't get a good plate of calf brains and eggs for breakfast anywhere. Try Kentucky.

                      1. re: rudeboy
                        ghastlyfop RE: rudeboy Aug 26, 2011 03:41 PM

                        What is "authentic" anyway? No matter how "authentic" something is someone will claim it's been Westernized and thus spoiled in some way. I bet when the first person to think of cooking meat first slapped mammoth steaks on the fire someone griped about how they were making it bland for American tastes....

                        1. re: ghastlyfop
                          tom in austin RE: ghastlyfop Aug 26, 2011 04:39 PM

                          What matters is just this: is it good? The hipster marketer seeking "authentic" is only slightly less fooled than the trademarked-name-only diner that chokes down different, ornately-disguised guises of Sysco every night.

                          I've had a Thai friend tell me that Mam's isn't authentic. I've also had Thai friends tell me that Mam's is the most authentic place in town. At the end, what am I left with? Is it delicious? If no, what does authenticity matter? If yes, who the f cares?

                          Sawadee, Subsin, whatever it is now, has struggled with spicing and salting since I moved to Far South Austin ages ago. They might be uber-authentic, who knows. All I can say is that by comparison to Mam's, Little Thailand, and Titaya, their food stinks. You can tell when you eat it. It could have been very good food. Something went wrong, or wasn't completed. Something. You'll never eat there and be "hot damn this place is the money!" Instead, you'll lament the unrealized potential.

                          Austin within city limits has no great Thai. Don't be offended - pre-Franklin, Austin had within city limits no great barbecue, yet was considered the bbq capital of Texas, and thusly the world.

                    2. z
                      zestygirl RE: popvulture Aug 27, 2011 08:05 AM

                      My choices would be Satay on Anderson Lane and Thai Cuisine on Parmer Lane. I have been to many Thai restaurants in Austin and hands down Satay is my overall favorite...everything I have ordered has been very good and fresh and I have been going there for years. Thai Cuisine is new but what I have ordered has been VERY good...maybe my new favorite! If you are in Bee Cave there is Blue Bamboo which is pretty good. I also like the food at Thai Noodle House near campus (there menu is more like street food style and some unique dishes you won't see anywhere else) but the service is not very good...talking about this is making me hungry!!
                      Hope this helps with your quest!

                      -----
                      Thai Cuisine
                      4101 W Parmer Ln Ste F, Austin, TX 78727

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: zestygirl
                        n
                        nypb RE: zestygirl Aug 27, 2011 11:39 AM

                        Pad Se Ew is my favorite Thai noodle dish. Where Madam Mam's wins over every other Thai place that I have tried in town is the fact that they use Chinese broccoli. Every other place that I have tried uses regular broccoli and that's where they all fall short. JMO.

                        1. re: nypb
                          dinaofdoom RE: nypb Aug 27, 2011 11:59 AM

                          thai cuisine on parmer uses chinese broccoli in their pad se ew.
                          i usually order extra veggies (there's an upcharge, but i don't mind).

                          1. re: dinaofdoom
                            n
                            nypb RE: dinaofdoom Aug 27, 2011 02:16 PM

                            Good to know, thanks! I will try it when I am over that way. I also love my Pad Se Ew with a really wide noodle but have yet to find that here.

                      2. s
                        scrumptiouschef RE: popvulture Aug 28, 2011 09:48 AM

                        Thai food trailer in Austin
                        http://www.yelp.com/biz/little-thai-f...

                        Who's been?

                        I'm a fiend for yom nua and would love a report on their version.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: scrumptiouschef
                          popvulture RE: scrumptiouschef Aug 28, 2011 03:37 PM

                          Thanks for reminding me of this place. I'd love to hear if anyone's been... I drive by on S1st all the time and it's always at the wrong moment, i.e. in a rush or I've just eaten.

                          I also like the chatter this thread has stirred up... at first I felt like an idiot and it seems like I've got a few more people now who might share the same feelings. Opinions are opinions! I'm always willing to hear people's, though, and am always down to try some new recommendations. Thanks for all the chiming in.

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