Focus on Mid-Town: Taste of Thai

This week’s focus on Mid Town takes us past Seventh Street. up to Broadway, where one of my favorite Thai restaurants in town lies comfortably under the pretense of a billiard hall. Actually, I’m being facetious. Taste of Thai is a pool hall, but the food is the reason why I visit.

I like to have lunch at Taste of Thai when it’s cold and rainy. There’s something comforting about the sweet and spicy Mongolian Beef (though not truly a Thai dish) served over sticky rice that warms one’s stomach and general outlook on life. Taste of Thai is one of the few restaurants where I am allowed to eat the Mongolian Beef because they don’t throw so much sugar in it that I go into hyperglycemic shock, yet the balance of sweet with heat is perfect.

Both the green and red curries (I like to order them with chicken) are clean, simple, spicy and rich. They cook the sweet green peppers to perfection so that the vegetables are still crisp, but caramelized slightly, and the mixture of holy basil and coconut is consistently balanced with precision. And the best part is that you get all that for $5.

Taste of Thai makes one of the better Pad Thais in town, second only to Phai Nam. Both restaurants prepare this traditional rice noodle dish in the customary manner, but Taste of Thai garnishes it with fresh lime and ground peanuts. It’s amazing what a difference a simple garnish can make, especially within the context of fine Laos-Thai cuisine.

When I am not so hungry, but need quick sustenance, I like to order Tom Ka Chicken Soup. This coconut cream-based soup includes ginger, cilantro, lemongrass root, galangal root, mushrooms, bamboo and onion. It’s another one of those comfort-food things that warms the heart and heals any aches or pains (Tom Ka is perfect for colds or fevers). Coupled with a cup of hot tea, this is perfect for any rainy day blues.

Taste of Thai’s atmosphere can be a little off-putting, as it is very spacious and empty feeling during the day. However, in the evenings, the pool tables are usually all occupied, and there is a bar that brings more folks in to dispel the empty-room echo.

The wait staff are wonderful at this restaurant; attentive and extremely polite. Everything on the menu is $6 or less, so it fits the stressed pocket well. The servings are perfectly sized, and there is literally nothing on their menu that isn’t edible.

Customers have the option of ordering their meals in three degrees of spiciness, or none at all. A word to the wise: never, ever order any of the curries and indicate “very spicy,” because they already are, and the food becomes inedible at that degree of heat. However, the Pad Thai, Mongolian Beef, Green Pepper Steak, Ginger Chicken, etc. can hold up to the extremity of the peppers.

Taste of Thai and Billiards is at 1201 Broadway, and is open Sunday (closed Tuesday) through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. They do takeout orders, and can be reached at 963-3088.

From the April 13-19, 2005, issue

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