Thai food has always been a bit of a mystery to me. My first exposure to Thai cuisine was only four years ago at a small restaurant called Krua Thai, located a mere 5 minute walk from my house. My mom casually returned home from work with takeout containers stuffed with Beef Phad See Ew, Tom Kha Gai, and Panang Curry. And I loved it.
Ever since then Krua Thai has been my Thai restaurant of choice, and I’ve almost exclusively ordered those same three dishes every time I’ve been there. Gradually, eating at Krua has ascended Thai food into one of my favorite cuisines to eat. I adore the unique blend of sweet, spicy, and tangy spices in Thai food, unmatched by any other kind of food. I have tried one or two other Thai restaurants in Seattle, including Thai One On in Lake City. My favorite Thai dishes were similarly enjoyed at these other locations. However, throughout all these restaurants, I never especially enjoyed the Pad Thai.
All this has sparked curiosity for me: do I actually dislike Pad Thai altogether, or have I merely been eating mediocre Pad Thai for the past four years? If there was one place that would answer this for me, it would be Thai Tom. For months now, my classmates have raved about the Pad Thai at Thai Tom. And so, I decided it would be the perfect destination to kick off my food review launchpad.
The restaurant opened at 11:30, yet the literal hole-in-the-wall building already packed by the time I arrived with my Dad at 11:40. We were quickly seated at the last open table and handed an intricate spade shaped ornament in which the menu was hand-written. No prices. No sides. Just 14 “top hits”. We decided on the Chicken Pad Thai and Tofu Green Curry.
The restaurant was in total around the size of my bedroom. To my right two chefs fire-cooking some vegetables on a big grill and stove immediately captivated my attention. I could almost feel the fire hissing at me everytime I looked away. Amid the large fire they quickly flipped noodles and vegetables in a wok and directly served them to the half-dozen customers seated at the counter in front of them.
While the small restaurant was packed by the time we arrived at 11:40, by the time our food came at noon there was a line extended out the door and onto the sidewalk. I tried the green curry first. A little spicy, a little sweet, and creamy all the way through. Such a balance of flavors embodies what I love about Thai food. Additionally, the tofu is perfectly crispy on the outside while maintaining a soft inside. The perfect texture to be paired with the smooth curry.
However, if I’m nitpicking, this curry is far from flawless. To start off, while I ordered the curry two stars of spiciness, I only taste the slightest hint of spice. To be fair, I am a big fan of spicy foods, so this likely has more to do with my own preference. Furthermore, the rice was slightly stale, and I could tell it had been sitting out for a bit. The curry also had a slightly too oily consistency, and lacked the thick, opaque texture I prefer in curries. I recognize these are both relatively hard for a restaurant to control, but still, I was disappointed not to get the perfect bite of soft, fluffy rice dressed in curry that I cherish in Thai food.
I then tried the Pad Thai. While I had ordered it with the same two star spiciness I had ordered the curry in, upon my first bite I was hit with an aggressive punch of spice that had been lacking in the green curry. The perfect amount of spice for me. However, this was quickly pushed aside by balanced flavors of tanginess and sweetness. All of the Pad Thai I had tried before was either too sweet and lacked tang or vice versa, for once a restaurant had gotten the balance spot on.
I truly admired how elegantly each ingredient was chopped and integrated into the dish. This really allowed every small piece, from the chicken to the noodles to the bean sprouts, to equally contribute to each bite of the dish. I wasn’t sure what to think at first when I crunched down on a bite of noodles. Pad Thai noodles are crunchy?. But with each successive bite I grew to appreciate it more and more. Each noodle had been toasted into a slight crisp, so that it had a dual texture of chewiness and crunch.
My dad and I appropriately wiped the bowl clean of noodles. Five years into my experience with Thai cuisine, and I finally understood why Pad Thai had snuck its way into America’s favorite takeout dishes.