Thai steamed dumplings & Pad Thai–get in line

Thai steamed dumplings & Pad Thai–get in line

By Mike Leifheit

By Mike Leifheit

Restaurant Critic

Owner of the Irish Rose Restaurant, Mike Leifheit reviews locally owned restaurants who make it ‘from scratch.’

Phainam Grocery and Cafe, housed in what was the former home of Edson Motors, 1623 Broadway, is one of the most charming Indo-chinese restaurants in the city. Noy, the manager, a beautiful diminutive Lao woman, says the food is Laotian and Thai. I probably would go there just to see her, but the food is outstanding also. My favorite things are the papaya salad, which I like to order very spicy (I don’t advise you do this, unless you understand what very hot means to Lao people) and the Pho or Rice Noodle soup with meat and vegetables. Recently, when Andy Williams from the Chamber of Commerce and I went there to sign Noy up for the Taste of Rockford, she introduced us to the Steamed Dumplings. They are big dumplings filled with pork and egg. You can eat them plain, or you can do as I do and smother them with tons of hot sauce. They were, by the way, the hit of Taste of Rockford, with their Spring Rolls, Egg Rolls and the Steamed Dumplings. Noy and her brothers, Sonkhit and Soulysack, and her sister Radavane, escaped from Laos in 1979, when it was over run by a communist regime. They went first to Thailand, and then to the United States via a sponsorship by Zion Lutheran

Church. After living in Rockford for a number of years, they opened the Phainam. It is a family business.

The grocery, which they opened originally, has been open for three years; the restaurant has been open for two. There is a definite emphasis on freshness here. Like the Irish Rose, Noy goes to the South Water market two times a week to get the unique vegetables that make her family’s food authentic. The local Southeast Asian people know the days she goes, and there are lines on those days to get the new fresh items. On the Thai side of the menu, they have Tom Yum, a spicy soup that is a particular favorite of mine, and Pad Thai, a noodle dish that is served with meat in a sauce., plus many other things. One of these that is my favorite is the seafood salad, although to be honest, I am not sure if that falls on the Thai or the Lao side of the menu. When ordering, Noy, always the gracious host, will guide you as to the ingredients of the dish, and the various degrees of spiciness. Start off with a Lao coffee or tea, some sticky rice and some hot sauce to dunk it in. They will show you how if you just ask. Take your kids and expose them to a little culture different from their own. They will thank you for years to come. Phainam is open every day but Tuesday from 11 a.m. till 9 p.m. Tel. 227-4481.

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