Tag Archives: Thai

Thai at Banana Blossom in Cleveland

One of our favorite things in Cleveland is the surprising proliferation of quality Southeast Asian food. We have tried over a dozen Thai places in the area, but we keep coming back to Cleveland stalwart Banana Blossom (2800 Clinton Ave, Cleveland, OH) – it is our favorite, consistently solid spot for Thai classics in the city. Banana Blossom has been holding down an unassuming corner in the Ohio City neighborhood for a while, before it was the artsy, bustling neighborhood it is today. Banana Blossom is bigger on the inside than you might think, with a peaceful ambiance.

You can get all of your favorite Thai dishes at Banana Blossom, but we feel they are all executed better than you would normally find. The menu has a wide selection of salads, soups, noodle dishes and curries. There are some more unusual dishes like Prik Khing Salmon (Deep-Fried Salmon with String Beans and Our Homemade Prik Khing Sauce – $15.95) and roasted tamarind duck ($18.95). Despite the broad offerings,  when we go to Banana Blossom we usually stick with our classics: Pad See Eiw (stir-fried wide rice noodles with chicken and shrimp, eggs, carrots and broccoli – $11.50), and Penang Curry (a medium-spicy curry with chiles, coriander, kaffir lime peel, galangal, bell pepper, string beans, baby corn, eggplant and basil leaves – $12.95). Sometimes we will also start out with a refreshing papaya Salad (with string beans, tomato and peanuts – $8.95), which is also pretty spicy!

The service is quick and efficient, and you are never left waiting too long, even when it is busy. M also likes that he can get a legitimately spicy Penang curry (you can specify a heat level of 1-5). The portions at Banana Blossom are generous, and there are a wide variety of proteins: Chicken, Duck, Beef, Pork, Shrimp, Salmon, Tofu or Vegetable. Banana Blossom even has a full bar, though we usually just stick to the Thai iced teas ($3)! We have never been disappointed at Banana Blossom, and if you are looking for some comforting, classic Thai food in Cleveland, definitely visit!

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Battle of the Nam Khao Tods in Chicago

thailandOne of our favorite Thai dishes is the Northern Thai specialty Nam Khao Tod. It is a more unique dish that is pretty hard to find at most neighborhood Thai restaurants in the US, but we happily found that there are two places in Chicago on a stretch of Western Avenue that both serve Nam Khao Tod – Spoon Thai (4608 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL) and Rainbow Cuisine (4825 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL). Spoon Thai is a longtime favorite for more authentic Thai dishes in Chicago, and Rainbow Cuisine is a relative newcomer on the scene, but is producing great Northern Thai specialties. In an interesting twist, the chef from Spoon Thai, Wanpen Phosawang, actually left to open Rainbow Thai with her husband (and we have been using the recipe from Spoon Thai at home). Since Nam Khao Tod is so hard to find – we knew we had to try the two Chicago contenders head to head.

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Nam Khao Tods head to head

The Challenge: Nam Khao Tod is a complex dish made with a great combination of clean flavors: Northern-style nam / naem sausage, red onion, red curry, chili peppers, fresh ginger, limes, peanuts, fish sauce and cilantro. However, making the dish itself takes some finesse – especially when making the crispy rice – which requires deep frying rice croquettes, discarding the soft bits and breaking apart the crispy exterior. The mix of textures and sweet-sour-salty-acidic flavors is what makes Nam Khao Tod so special.

The Winner: The dishes were about the same price and size – Spoon Thai’s ($9.95) is on the left, and Rainbow Cuisine’s ($8.95) is on the right. The dishes both had all the key elements of nam khao tod, however Spoon Thai’s also had the addition of carrots, and was served on a bed of lettuce. When comparing the two, we agreed on a clear winner: Rainbow Thai. The rice was much crispier (a necessity) and the flavors were all melded together much more coherently. The nam sausage in Spoon’s version was also somewhat undercooked. Though both Nam Khao Tods were delicious we have to say that Rainbow Cuisine handily won the Nam Khao Tod face-off. If you want to try a new Northern Thai dish, make it this one.

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Thai Thai Bangkok Street Food in Lakewood

thailandThe Cleveland area actually has a huge supply of Thai good restaurants, and though we have a few favorites, we are still looking for our go-to spot. In Thai Thai Bangkok Street Food (13735 Madison Ave, Lakewood, OH 44107) we have a worthy contender. We first came across Thai Thai at the Asiatown Night Market over the summer, where they were selling bubble tea, chicken skewers and fried noodles. We were excited to learn that they also had a bricks-and-mortar spot in Lakewood, so we decided to pop into Thai Thai for a pre-concert meal.

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The menu at Thai Thai is limited – which in this case is a good thing – the focus is on Bangkok-specific street foods instead of a more typical wide menu. The owners are from Bangkok and have taken care to bring over some of the more unique street foods  from the city. There are favorites on the menu like pad thai and pad see eiw, but also more unique dishes like Yen Ta Foe (which M actually tried as a street food in Bangkok) – a pink soup made with fermented soybean paste and roasted duck noodles with bean sprouts.

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On a Saturday night, Thai Thai was quite crowded, but the owner Kiwi was efficiently making the rounds at the table and was quite friendly with recommendations. To start, we tried the North East Sausage, ($5.50) which is homemade pork sausage made with rice and spices, as well as Tom Yum soup ($3.50), which is a sweet and sour soup with lemongrass and mushrooms. The soup was particularly delicious, and was more complex than the other Tom Yums we have tried in the past. For mains we ordered Kra Praow (bottom dish below – $9.95), spicy chicken, rice and basil; and Larb (top dish below – $9.95), a spicy chicken salad with lemongrass, red onion and cilantro.

larb

The mains were both delicious, with moderate spiciness, but nothing too overpowering. All of the ingredients were super-fresh, clean and simple. Thai Thai’s dishes really did remind us of the food we had in Thailand. For dessert they also had kabocha squash custard and mango sticky rice ($5 each). However, we opted for one of the many flavors of bubble tea – taro. We enjoyed the more unique dishes available at Thai Thai, and this factor helps bring a new element to the Thai food scene in the Cleveland area. We will definitely be back to Thai Thai soon!

bubbleteataro

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A New Place for Thai: Rainbow Cuisine

thailandRainbow Thai (4825 North Western Avenue) is absolutely our favorite recent food find, and it totally changed the way we think about Thai food in the city. In fact, we like it so much, a part of us wants to delete this post and not add to the increasing number of Chicagoans who swear by Rainbow Thai. We have visited Rainbow Thai 5 or 6 times now, and the major change that we noticed on our last visit is that they have expanded into the storefront next door: what was previously only three very small tables is now a welcoming, cozy, tastefully decorated space perfect for eating some of the most unique, rewarding, and clear Thai cuisine in the city.

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Rainbow Thai seating: Before

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Rainbow Thai seating: After

We went to Rainbow two times in as many weeks, to try to get a flavor for what they had to offer. They have 2 menus: a standard American-friendly Thai menu with your classics like pad see eiw and pad thai, as well as a “Thai” menu of untranslated dishes. Last year, the good people at LTH Forum took the trouble of translating everything on the authentic Thai menu, and good thing they did because we could not get enough of the dishes off this menu. Clients like it so much that now seatings at Rainbow Thai come with three menus: the standard menu, the Thai menu, and a print-off of the LTH Forum page translating it! Clearly, Rainbow Thai approves of the translation and descriptions.

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Pad see ew (front) , jungle curry and nam khao tod

This is a family operation, the son (or sometimes the dad) takes orders and mom cooks. Dishes may not come out right together or super quickly, but that’s ok. This is a place where patience is rewarded. Usually we end up over-ordering and they will say so.They also appeared to be doing a pretty brisk carryout business. Below are some of our favorites: items with an asterisk come from the Thai menu.

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Vietnamese Crepes (Kanom Buang yuan)

  • *Kanom Buang yuan – Of Vietnamese origin (banh xeo), these Thai crepes are made of a crispy egg skin and then filled with fresh vegetables. Filling and tasty, we were impressed at how thin and delicate the crepe was.
  • *Nam khao tod – When Matt finished this dish for the first time, he immediately walked to the kitchen and said it was the best thing he had eaten in Chicago this year. Five visits later, he says it is still true. Tantalizing caramelized rice is fried together with fish sauce, lime, peanuts, and a special fermented Thai sausage to create a dish that is much more than the sum of these parts: a total exploration of Thai flavor profiles that we have never had in another dish. Just spectacular.
  • *Keang paa – Thai Jungle Curry, combining fresh vegetables in a soupy curry with a little heat. This dish is clean and crisp, served with rice on the side.
  • *Kao kluk ka pi – At first glance, the various aspects of this dish make no sense together. You receive a plate with a pile of fried rice topped with small dried shrimp, all cooked in shrimp paste; a small mound of pork in sweet/fermented sauce; shredded egg; and thin apple slices. And yet, it all makes sense together. Matt typically orders this alongside the nam khao tod, and it is always too much food. But together they showcase some of the best of what Rainbow Thai has to offer.
  • Pad Kra Prow – Basil chicken, a classic finished with spicy fermented sausage, a northern Thai specialty done very well here. 
  • Pad see eiw – The classic dish and L’s favorite, featuring well-cooked greens and a flavorful soy-based sauce. This version was subtle and delicious, and not as sweet as some versions – a definite winner.

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    The inimitable nam khao tod

Of course Rainbow Thai also has all your Thai favorites (we’ve heard very good things about their green curry), as well as beverage classics like bubble tea and chaa yen (Thai iced tea). But really, do not come here for the standard menu. Get out of your comfort zone and try some amazing flavor combinations prepared by loving chefs who are genuinely concerned that you like everything you are served. Everything was top notch. Totally fresh and literally made to order. We would return to Rainbow Thai again and again for some old staples as well as new favorites, and you really must get the nam khao tod! Now that there is ample seating, you can even bring your friends.

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Kao kluk ka pi

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Jin Thai, superlative Thai in Chicago

Jin Thai
5458 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60640

thailandWe have been meaning to try Jin Thai FOREVER…well maybe not forever, but certainly sometime soon after they made it onto the Michelin Bib Gourmand list in 2012. Every time we go up and down Western we looked at the Jin Thai sign longingly. We finally made it there on a particularly blustery and cold night, and we were certainly glad we did. The place is tiny, and they don’t take reservations unless your party is more than 4 people (we had 4), so we waited about 20 minutes for a table to open up on a Friday night. There really is no room to wait, which made it a little awkward as we loomed over other tables. It is also BYOB and also does carry out, so keep that in mind if it is a particularly busy night.

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Jin Thai’s menu hits all the classics while incorporating some less common dishes, enough to keep Chicago’s seasoned Thai food aficionados happy. A well-curated and manageable menu includes a set of highly recommended curries, as well as one of the best crab rangoon in the city. On this trip, we stuck to our favorites: Lindsay got her classic Pad See Ewe ($8.95), a  delicious version made better by the addition of a little something else in the sauce beyond soy. Maybe fish sauce? Whatever it was, it had a great depth of flavor. Matt got the Massamun Curry ($14.95), with chicken, potatoes, onions, pineapple, and peanuts. This was one of the more complex curries he had ever had. We also shared a plate of crab rangoon to start, and everyone agreed with the reviews:  one of the best in the city.???????????????????????????????

Everything at Jin Thai was delicious, and the flavors were slightly more complex and elevated than we expected. If we lived closer, this definitely would be our go-to place, though we plan to visit it whenever we are on that stretch of Western. Get there early so you can get a table!

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