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Austin-Little Thailand

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  • KT Mar 11, 2003 04:33 PM
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Long time lurker...first time poster.

I am obsessed with Little Thailand and think that it's the ultimate Chowhound destination for any Austin area Chowhounds. We try to go every other week, but sometimes we're the only table in the restaurant. People just don't know what they're missing. Has anyone else had an experience here- good or bad? I've been to Lotus of Siam in Vegas three times and this place runs a very close second, and actually surpasses it on certain dishes, such as larb and stuffed chicken wings. My husband has dreams about their warm beef salad. We always get the chicken lemongrass soup, with coconut milk added. The beef papaya salad is the perfect combination of tang and crunch. Don't miss the fried bananas or Thai bloody marys. The proprietor is quite a character and always makes you feel welcome. The bar in back alone is worth a visit. Only downside is that it's kind of hard to find-7 miles east of the Austin airport on 71. Amazingly reasonable prices....as Dick says "Put a 1 in front of that total and that's what you'd pay in Austin".

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  1. I'll second your recommendation. I've eaten lunch there some twenty or thirty times. Never been for dinner. I can't resist the Phat Thai lunch special. I haven't been in a few months. I'm glad to hear that Dick is still hanging in there despite what may be tough times. My only gripe is the TV on at lunch. I hope it's off at dinner. But the food is good and the atmosphere is like your uncle's living room, so the TV almost makes sense. Thanks for reminding me to go back.

    1. Almost as good as LOS? I will have to remember that on my next trip to Austin.
      At LOS I love the northern thai pork stew. Is there anything like that here? What about the curries? Tekll me more about the stuffed chicken wings.

      4 Replies
      1. re: John Scar

        I haven't seen the northern pork stew on Little Thailand's menu. Their menu is much more limited than LOS, probably due to the lower volume of business.

        As for the stuffed chicken wings: instead of being breaded like they are at LOS, they have a perfectly crisp skin. They're stuffed with cabbage and other goodies, and served with both a fish sauce and local honey. Glad you asked about the curries- that's the only thing I've had there that doesn't completely wow me- too many bamboo shoots for my liking. But that could be because I'm more accustomed to Indian curries.

        As BillB mentioned- it is a bit annoying that they have the TV on (and they do frequently leave it on for dinner) but they'll turn it off at your request. We're usually so busy oohing and aahing over the food that we don't even notice.

        1. re: KT

          So, KT, Bob, what DO y'all recommend to order? Any real favorites?

          Am going to make an effort to trek out there real soon, and want to be certain to follow your lead.

          1. re: ChrissieH

            Glad to hear that you're going to check Little Thailand out, Chrissie. My favorites so far are the chicken lemongrass soup, warm beef salad, and Som Thum w/ beef (everything can also be ordered vegetarian). What it lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in flavors. It's kind of tricky to find, but the address is 4315 Caldwell Lane. It's on the north side of 71 under the water tower in Garfield. They're closed on Sundays. Please give us a full report after your visit. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

        2. re: John Scar

          Little Thailand is a different kind of good than Lotus of Siam. Nothing strikes me as all that exotic, in fact it has a similar menu to a lot of ordinary Thai restaurants. There is a lot of subtle care that goes into the dishes however. For instance, they grow their own chiles to fill the spice shakers on the tables. And the ambience, if you start things off in the bar, is really special.

        3. Thanks for the recommendation. I had never heard of this place.

          1. Welcome to the board, KT! Hope you'll not lurk any longer and continue to offer advice on food.

            I've heard of Little Thailand and seen it driving by, but never had the chance to eat dinner there. I'll put it on my list of places to try.

            Thanks for the post.

            1. Every single thing you said is right on the money, except I always get that papaya salad with pork.

              And yeah, the place isn't often crowded. I'd better go back soon, with my own crowd.

              1. Waking up this long-dormant thread... I'm going to this place for my first time this evening. Any suggestions?

                2 Replies
                1. re: tom in austin

                  Good lord. If you haven't been here, and you like Thai food, go. This place is amazing.

                  First, it is very hard to find, especially on a dark, rainy night. My friends had told me "turn at the water tower". What they neglected to mention is that the water tower will not be lit up in any meaningful way at night. After several misadventures, I finally made my way there.

                  I didn't get to make any ordering decisions, as this was a large party dining family style. Luckily, that translated into fried spring rolls, delicious lemongrass soup, a hearty and rich chicken curry dish, what is now my favorite pad thai in Austin, and a masterful delicacy called alternately by the group a "cool beef salad" or "warm beef salad". The dessert (fried bananna balls w/ honey for dipping) was also delicious. (How many times can I say "delicious"?)

                  For the first time in months, I had a meal where I never felt full. I felt as if I could have eaten forever. Everything tasted so fresh, and even though we were dining family style, every item seemed lovingly prepared. This food was the opposite of "manufactured" -- while I've never been to Thailand, I ignorantly imagined it as Thai home cooking. With the variety of the dishes offered by the family style, the flavor landscape was diverse and inviting: any given bite could be hearty and savory, bitter, sour, sweet, or salty.

                  Also note: before dinner, I had a "Thai bloody mary", which was an amazing thing to shake of the cold. Spicier than your average extra-spicy bloody mary. Excellent.

                  If you like Thai food, do yourself a favor and try this place. I've been neglecting it for years, and I definitely regret it.

                  1. re: tom in austin

                    Occasionally,over the last few years,I've considered eating Thai food at a restaurant other than Little Thailand.I had high hopes for Sawadee but the lackluster response to my CHOWHOUND query forfended my visit.Yes,Little Thailand is the finest Thai restaurant where I
                    've dined...ever.Close calls in NYC and Amsterdam notwithstanding,Little Thailand is Mecca for true 'hounds.

                2. Thanks for bumping up this thread. I love Thai food and will definately check out this place on my next trip.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                    Landed in Austin this afternoon and will check this out for dinner tomorrow. Can't wait!

                    1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                      Remember: it isn't easy to find. Watch your car's odometer. If you know you've gone too far, stop at a gas station and ask for directions. Everyone in the area will know what you're talking about.

                      It is worth the quest. It is definitely a member of Austin's top ten restaurants!

                  2. Actually, with the help of this board, it was pretty easy to find. Just look for the water tower! I LOVED the atmosphere of this place! TV was on mute, so that wasn't an issue. What a cool place. And Dick? What a kick. He spent almost my entire dinner with me talking about the restaurant. And has anyone commented on the "Lounge" of his in the back! No dogs playing poker on velvet, but dogs playing pool! And a great 45 year old jukebox that is free. Dick took me into the kitchen to meet his wife and the other cook (her sister?). When I got there at 6:15, there was 4 top that had just finished dinner (thought they opened at 6pm?). When I paid my bill, I was the only other customer so far that night. Ok, Wednesday nights might not be their busy night, but how do you stay open without more diners? Anyway, on to the food.

                    Ordered the Tom Yum with Shrimp and Dick convinced me to get it with pork instead. The pork is marinated and cooked and served separate from the soup. Sounded very good. I also ordered the Lop Nua (laab to me) with chicken and the warm beef salad (nom tak to me). First Dick tells me he is bringing me out some cabbage soup because "We just give everyone some of this!". Never had it, but loved it. It was great with Dick's hot sauce on the table which he said was 50/50 Haberno and Thai chilis. Nice kick (I like painfully hot food). Then Dick brings me out a plate of white rice, a plate of the grilled pork strips and.....uh......a plate of something. It's good, but it sure isn't Tom Yum. I decided to be polite and just eat it. Then came a veggie spring roll with two sauces. Excellent spring roll! The "hot" sauce wasn't that hot and a bit heavy on the fish sauce, but really yummy when mixed with the table hot sauce and a healthy portion of the dried chilis added. Then the beef salad and the Lob Nau. Loved the beef salad and inhaled all of it. The chicken Lob didn't really do it for me. I still like Thai Tara's a bit better (and OMG is that place getting slammed on Austin360 for terrible service!). Chased it all down with a icy Singha. Diner was $33, I left Dick $40. I'll go back to try the Pad Thai and curries. Loved the ambiance and Dick. I'd still give this place a "Highly Recommended" rating. I also loved how Dick pointed out that the Austin Chronicle rated them the best in Austin and they aren't even in Austin!

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                      You definitely were at the right place! Did you try a Thai bloody mary? Per Dick, this is made with real uhhhhhhh "Garfield water".

                      1. re: tom in austin

                        I stuck with beer. Next time I will try the bloody mary. And WTF is "Garfield water"? I did get to meet his daugheter's tiny dog....

                        1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                          Well, I don't think they're completely licensed for some of the ingredients involved in that bloody mary. Some camoflage may be required. When he squirts "water" from an anonymous water bottle into your bloody mary, he explains that it is "Garfield water".

                          1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                            Exactly! That must be why they're so spicy!

                        2. re: tom in austin

                          Hey, I'm going tomorrow night. My plan is to go with four people, get there before 8 PM, bring my own wine, and ask the proprietor to simply serve us what he likes to eat. Maybe before eating, I'll go into the "bar" and check it out. For those of you who've been before, do you see any problem with this plan? Can you get a bloody mary in the bar and simply "tip" for it, then go eat at the table? What time does the carpet roll up? Is 8 PM too late, even on a Friday?

                          1. re: rudeboy

                            I use the term "bar" loosely... Call first to see if Dick will let you bring your own wine.

                      2. Made my first foray to Little Thailand on Friday and it made me realize what a great resource Chowhound is.

                        The remote location and superficialities of LT may turn some folks off, but the more adventurous will be rewarded.

                        We drove out to LT after dark, and per earlier posts, it was difficult to see from the road, though we had no problem getting there.

                        We arrived and were told to sit wherever we wanted. I don't know if this normally happens, but Dick's wife brought out some cabbage soup to begin with, and it was a nice and unexpected start to the meal.

                        We had one of the Thai bloody marys and were taken aback by the degree of spice. It was delicious but make sure that you have some water at the table before you take your first sip. The drink is garnished with some of Dick's pickled asparagus, making it even more unique. I ordered a Singha as well, which tastes like a concentrated American-style lager; it reminded me of the higher-content American beers that are sold abroad, but would qualify as malt liquors here.

                        Thanks to the earlier recs, we ordered the stuffed chicken wings. Of course, expecting them to be the size of buffalo wings and ordering four for two diners was somewhat of an overzealous move on my part. The wings are huge and stuffed full with cabbage and something like harusame and complemented with the spicy fish sauce and raw honey. Quite frankly, they could have been a meal in themselves, and for the price of $2/each, it was a great way to get into the meal.

                        I ordered the Pot Thai, if only because it seems to be the easiest way for me to judge the quality of Thai. I was not disappointed-it was possibly the best I've had. There was a perfect blend of ingredients and the chicken was a mix of white and dark rather than the standard breast meat which added a measure of down home authenticity to it. Dick provides a shaker of crushed Thai pepper from his plant, so even though the dish was prepared mild, you can spice it up as much as you want.

                        My partner ordered the Laht Na, a beef and broccoli dish with flat egg noodles in a spicy brown sauce. We weren't as impressed with this; the sauce was a bit bland, and without the broccoli it almost could be mistaken for your mother's stroganoff.

                        Some of the odder elements of the restaurant also add to the experience (photos in the ceiling tiles, the various other products and services that Dick provides like notary, ranch eggs, his beef and turkey jerky, the direct view into the kitchen upon entry and the atmosphere of the location).

                        The experience alone would have sold me on Little Thailand, so it's just gravy that the food is some of the best Thai in Austin.

                        NOTE: The best way to find Little Thailand at night is to use your odometer to measure 7 miles south past the exit for ABIA on 71 and look for the water tower. You'll probably pass it but can make a left immediately afterwards and come back on the access road.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Twill

                          This post stuck with me...I love Little Thailand...haven't been in about a year and a half...but today we had the need for the services of a notary. I remembered reading this, so we went for dinner and notary services. Just to add my voice to the superlatives....great pot thai, warm beef salad, stuffed chicken legs and spicy mysterious bloody mary. Quick and efficient notary service (Dick rolled a service cart up to the table so the papers wouldn't get dirty or wet!), with the fee just added to the tab! Oh, and a dozen "just laid" eggs - all dirty and different shades of brown and beige. My favorite new discovery is the sign that says "Living wills prepared while you eat."

                        2. If you have concerns about going with someone who may not be into Thai food . . . they also do an excellent steak. Sounds funny, but it is so.

                          1. thank you, chowhound! i went to little thailand today because of all the raves i have read in this forum. i was not let down. this place is amazing. i took twill's recommendation and ordered one stuffed chicken wing per person as an appetizer. whoa, these things are heavenly-- i think it might've been my favorite of the night! for the main course, i had the pot thai with chicken. the chicken was cooked perfectly, and the ratio of dark to light meat was spot on. everything tasted so fresh and wonderfully prepared. my gf had the pot nua with beef-- i only had a taste, but it was also very tasty. we indulged in the thai bloody mary and some thai beers to wash everything down with. i loved the pickled asparagus in the thai bloody mary, so much so that i ordered another! as many have previously reported, dick was very warm and welcomed us into his restaurant. i told him that i had heard of the place from this website, and he said, "oh, those chowhound people love my restaurant!" haha. i only went back to his bar area for a minute, after the meal, but it seemed like the kind of place i could kick back in for hours and hours. (he offered me a free beer if i could name the title of the song he was playing--no dice, though.)

                            i'm going to try and go back sometime soon for their family special. the advertisements on the wall proclaim, "sometimes dreams do come true!" i'd like to try the chicken lemongrass soup and maybe the warm beef salad next time.. mmm, next time...

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: shoutsandmurmurs

                              Great to hear all the positive things about Little Thailand...heading out there this evening to celebrate Texas Independence .....looking forward to it!

                            2. Made it out to LT and it lived up to all it's praises...and Dick and staff were pretty charming. Had a great fired banana and vasnilla dessert that topped it all off beautifully. Sure am surprised that there was only one other table occupied while we were there. I'll do my part of keeping them going! If you haven't been, make it a destination.

                              1. Little Thailand is a gas and the food is pretty darn good to boot. The proprietors, Dick and Surin are friendly as hell. We asked Surin to bring us her favorites. The Tom Yum with chicken was delicate and fresh and with a dash of Dick's Thai pepper sauce (the squeeze bottle proclaims: "Yes, Hot!") was nearly perfect. Among the other favorites of the evening: Thai Beef Salad and Pot Thai. We left full, happy, and feeling like we'd been guests in Dick and Surin's home. We'll be back, and next time I'm not sharing the Pot Thai.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: akw

                                  I am dying to try this place with my husband, and I know the beef/pork/chicken dishes sound great, but what about seafood? Has anyone had a shrimp or tofu dish there that deserved any praise? Are those options available? What about cold dishes?

                                  Thanks!

                                  1. re: Maddyg

                                    The Thai Beef Salad is served semi-warm and packs a real heat/citrus punch.Haven't tried the seafood side of the menu[the pork,beef and chicken are amazing]but in Surin's hands......it's gonna be good.

                                    1. re: Maddyg

                                      My husband and I are vegetarians and tonight was our first visit to Little Thailand. Many of the dishes are listed with a veggie option. Dick explained that certain dishes like the Thai Curry don't include tofu and instead just leave out the meat. We had the Pot Thai with tofu and the Pot Nua with tofu -- both were delicious.

                                      1. re: smilezok

                                        Thanks for your input. We enjoyed LT so much this evening, Surin and Dick were great hosts, and the cabbage soup, chicken wings, Thai curry and veggie stir fry and the bloody mary's AND the cold Singhas ALL live up to the hype, with a bag full of kaffir lime leaves to boot!

                                        We will be returning soon, what a place!

                                  2. I know some of ya'll worry when you eat at LT that they don't seem to be very busy and you are concerned how they stay in business... I live in Garfield and call to order out alot. I know they are always busy with "To Go" orders....They are very popular around here. We just love their food and of course Dick is always fun to talk to.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: clvoigt

                                      Okay, I have been intrigued by this place for the last few weeks now. Found a great review on austin360 about it. That coupled with the favorable reviews on this site...My BF and I decided it's a must do and we are going this evening.

                                      So that being said, any recommendations on Must Have dishes?

                                      1. re: chowinginaustin

                                        Good to see the fine folks at Austin 360 managed to tip the scales in favor of a visit.If you're still wavering as you gas up the Taurus you can also find a favorable review on Austin Chronicle's website.

                                        That being said the Ribeye is the finest in the area,seared in a wok and garnished with sauteed onions and mushrooms.Both the lop nua and the yom nua are faithful renditions of the classics as is the som tom.You really can't go wrong with anything,it took a little under a year but I managed to try everything on the menu...if you're a chile head get the Thai Pepper Steak and have Surin substitute Thai Chiles for the bell peppers.It'll flat clean you out.

                                        1. re: scrumptiouschef

                                          Great place, but not the best in Austin....We are blessed with great Thai Food. Little Thailand is a top five.....There is Madam Mam's, Thai Spice (Lakeway), Thai Passion, Titaya, Thai Exotic. I was really excited to try Little Thailand, and was expecting the end all be all Pad Thai. It was excellent but not the best....I would rate all of the above better. The Pad Thai, curry, soups and eggrolls were all excellent at Little Thailand and they are super nice. Absolutely worth the trip.....

                                        2. re: chowinginaustin

                                          A friend and I had a splendid meal at LT tonight. We got the complimentary cup of cabbage soup, which we jazzed up with the house bottled hot sauce. We each had a spring roll and a stuffed chicken wing. Both delicious with the hot dipping sauce, which seemed to be just prik Thai and fish sauce. My friend had pot Thai, and I got the gai pot ka pow, after a long exchange with the lady on whether it was real ka pow (holy basil), which she assured me it was. I asked her to make it pet ma, and it came out almost spicy enough. A little dribble of the above mentioned hot dipping sauce and it was dynamite--insanely delicious. It had me sweating from the top of my head and under my eyes. Yum! We split a fried banana with honey dipping sauce for dessert. Oh, and I tried the Thai bloody Mary for the first time. It needed some salt and a good slug of the house hot sauce to make it right, but then it was super. Just my second time at LT, as I live pretty far away, but I'll go back as often as I can. Highly recommended.

                                          Jim

                                      2. Your obsession with Little Thailand is well founded. Next time your are out there, and you are curious about SE Asian whiskey, as Dick if he has any Mekong Running Deer. Bouquet of naptha, kick of the water buffalo. He still has the best Yum Nua I have ever bitten into.

                                        Haven't gone during a football season in awhile ... does he still have the chile con carne and hot sake parties?

                                        1. I just had a really nice lunch at Little Thailand.

                                          My uncle was coming to town from Dallas, and I told him to meet us there. He showed up an hour earlier than we'd scheduled, but I told him to just sit himself down at the bar and wait for me and my friend. We showed up and my uncle looked happy as a clam drinking a Shiner and talking to Dick.

                                          Dick told us about the specials (beef & broccoli on flat rice noodles or Thai shrimp fried rice) which also included a cup of cabbage soup with clear noodles, a Thai spring roll, and some tea. Since we all had drinks, they didn't serve us the tea. The spring roll was great and fresh, and the soup was simple, light on the salt, and very clean.

                                          My friend got the beef & broccoli and ate it happily. My uncle and I got the shrimp fried rice. The first thing I did was try the rice. It was sticky and flavorful and very light on oil. They were judicious with the soy sauce too, but it was still nicely seasoned. Then I tried the shrimp, which were served with the tail on. I figured this was all made fresh and from scratch, and tasting the first shrimp confirmed this. Plump is how I like to describe the texture of nicely cooked shrimp. It sort of bursts like an orange slice when you chomp down on it, and that's what these shrimp were like.

                                          I also tried a bit of Dick's hot sauce, which is nice. It's called "Yes It's Hot." It's made from half habanero and half Thai chilis. I liked it. I need to buy some and experiment with some Buffalo wing sauce. It is very spicy stuff, but my family in Buffalo, NY would get a kick out of it.

                                          And then I had the best thing I've had all week - Dick's Thai Bloody Mary. Of course he sells the mix which contains some of his Yes It's Hot sauce. It's a very spicy bloody mary, much deeper of a spiciness than the black pepper and tabasco in most bloody marys. My friend took a sip and remarked that I must still be too young to fear spicy foods. The cocktail was garnished with a pickled spear of asparagus, which I think is more appropriate than a stalk of celery.

                                          Great little place. I'll be sure to bring my out-of-town friends here regularly. And if you ask Dick about Chowhound, he'll tell you that he refuses to look at this site. "I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing," he said.

                                          God but they need a sign at the turn off of 71. Someone get on that. Just build it and stick it in the ground in the middle of the night, without telling Dick.