Best of Columbus: Thai Food
A food post? Sure, let’s do this!
The last few years, a co-worker has insisted I try Bangkok Grocery and Restaurant, telling me it’s only place his Thai girlfriend will eat outside their household, and that it’s even better than Bahn Thai (blasphemy!). I haven’t fully disregarded his recommendation, I’ve just been too lazy to make a concerted effort to drive down to Refugee Road – the confluence of industrial outskirts, strip malls, and auto-body repair shops.
A weak excuse I realize, but Bahn Thai Bistro has been my go-to since I moved to Columbus from NYC three years ago. It’s on W. Henderson Road – right down the street from my apartment – the service is great, the people amiable, and the food is fabulous. I’ve cheated on Bahn Thai with the high-trafficked Short North Asian fusion restaurants like Nida’s Thai (and sushi), Basil, and Lemongrass, even the lesser known strip-mallers like Thai Taste, Orchid Thai, and other unmentionables where Tom Yum soup tastes more like feet and Pu Pu platter. I’ve run back to Bahn Thai guiltily every time, but recently the consistency has waned. Slight flavor variations on staple dishes are fine by me, welcome even. The heat level as well, having happily tried the mild, medium, hot, and ‘Raider’s of the Lost Ark’ face melt spice variations of multiple dishes, but the last three visits I’ve left thinking something is off on quality, or taste. After reading favorable reviews on Urban Spoon to appease my trepidations, I finally decide to give Bangkok a try, sheepishly driving the opposite way of the normal route to Bahn Thai.
Bangkok is packed; a good sign, and we (me and Marti) get a booth by the door. We start by splitting the Mu Satay (thin pork skewers) served with a spicy red curry sauce, and a bowl of diced cucumbers. The pork is flat-out delicious. Dipped in the curry sauce…oh man, oh man is it good. Tender, juicy, super-thinly cut strips with slight hints of coriander and garlic that just melt off the skewer. The cucumber is more for easing the heat of the curry than taste, but we both love spicy foods, and let our palates revel in the burning goodness for a bit before fashioning cucumber Mu Satay kabobs.
The skewers are a meal in themselves, so I skip on ordering the highly recommended Tom Yum Gai (chicken) soup to save room for the main dish. Plus, it’s unseasonably hot outside; don’t want a belly full of hot sloshing soup broth. As aforementioned, I absolutely love spicy foods, so if you’re trying Bangkok look out for the little pepper symbol next to dish names on the menu. It’s hot, really hot, and unlike Bahn Thai or other restaurants, they do not ask the level of endorphin inducing heat you prefer; they just bring it.
I order the seafood Khao Pad Kra Pow, a fried rice basil dish with egg, squid, shrimp, and a hunks of imitation crab meat (I admittedly love imitation crab meat, have since I was a wee lad). The dish may seem like a bland choice, but I’m a creature of habit, and need a staple comparison dish. The seafood is really tasty, and the rice is mid-range on the Scoville heat scale. After only two dishes, it’s already the best, most authentic Thai food I’ve ever had. A subtle difference in Bangkoks preparation is, instead of frying the crap out of the red Thai chilis – burning off the taste – they use crispy, green chilis, cooked with the rice, not sautéed/scorched separately. The green Thai chilis are at the same heat level as the red, but taste fresher and oh so goooood. I get two slices of cucumber doubling as palate cleanser/aloe for my searing tongue.
Marti gets her usual Drunken Noodle (Pad Kee Mao) – basil, chicken, sliced tomatoes, noodles, and a mixture of ground chilis - and starts devouring it upon arrival, lips instantly turning purple from the spice. Her eyes well up and I ask if they’re tears of happiness from the food. She responds with a breathless ‘so hot, so good’, shoving the dish over for me to try. Most Drunken Noodles I’ve had are super oily, with fat, filling noodles, which I assume is the point of it being called Drunken Noodle, to sop up booze. Bangkok’s makes theirs with super thin noodles, light on the oil, and the chilis only slightly sautéed remaining crunchy in the savory sauce. It’s Amazing. Delicious. And spicy as hell.
You’ll notice the Chinese plates, and Zodiac symbols on the table mats in the pictures above - Bangkok is also a Chinese restaurant. And while Pad Kee Mao is technically a Chinese influenced dish, I’m so full from the portions, I can’t attempt to try anything other than the Thai variety – lesson learned for future food reviews. Next door to the restaurant is the grocery, where you can peruse the aisles for spices, teas, and various Asian vittles. If you’re feeling brave, there’s durian for sale in the rear fridge next to a variety of fish, beef, and various animal parts (bull penis anyone?). They don’t sell alcohol, but you can BYOB-it at the restaurant.
Next time you have a hankering for some Thai food, or you’re in Columbus for a visit, head on down to my new favorite Thai restaurant (directions). The food is fresh, delicious, and the prices reasonable. For two entrees, a starter, and drinks it was $28 total. I’m sorry, Bahn Thai Bistro, it’s not you, it’s me. – Mike
(photos by Marti Babcock)
*Do you have a Thai restaurant for me to try? Better than Bangkok? I accept the challenge, especially if you’re offering to fly me to Thailand. Let me know your suggestions, and I’ll hit it up.