Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tempting Thai Food Off of the Strip

Lotus of Siam
953 E. Sahara Ave #A-5
Las Vegas, NV 89104

When Katie found out we were going to Vegas, she really wanted to eat at Lotus of Siam. It is very rare that she is so adamant about eating at a restaurant. Usually she just lets me make a list, and then goes along for the ride. I was kind of shocked when she picked this place. Then after I did some research of my own about Lotus of Siam, I understood her desire to eat here.

Lotus of Siam is not only a Las Vegas institution, but an American institution as well. It has been dubbed, the best Thai food in North America. It has been featured on numerous TV shows. The owner/chef, Saipin Chutima has won a James Beard Award. The business has been reviewed on Yelp close to 1,500 times, and almost all but 15 percent of those reviews are either 4 or 5 star reviews. Not bad, for a restaurant that is well off of the strip, away from the bright lights of Las Vegas Boulevard, in a run down, dimly lit, odd shopping center that is easily missed when you are looking for it off of Sahara. The only clue that this iconic restaurant is here, is the continuous line of taxis picking up and dropping off tourists from the strip.

As dark, and eerily quiet as the shopping center is from the outside, the inside is bright and bustling with activity. Lotus of Siam is actually a lot bigger than it appears from the outside. Even with the large dining room, make sure you have reservations, as the wait times can be extremely long, from what I hear. With all of the accolades Lotus of Siam has garnered, you would think this restaurant would be fancy and expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. The dining area had a real warm feel to it, kind of like you were dining in a family's large dining room. There was also a large cross section of people here; businessmen, ladies out for a night on the town, large groups of Thai families, tourists from out of town, and a couple of good looking food bloggers from Orange County, who wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.

The menu was not as intimidating as I thought it would be. The names of the entrees were listed in Thai, but there were nice descriptions of what these plates consisted of in English. The prices? Most items are well under the $25 mark. Not bad for a restaurant with such a pedigree. After checking out the menu for awhile, the very patient, and efficient waiter took our order. We were both very excited to see if this would truly be the best Thai food we have had.

Lotus of Siam was Katie's choice for dinner, so I let her loose with picking out what she wanted to try. She started us off with the Nam Kao Tod ($7.95). This dish was made up of crispy rice, sour minced pork sausage, green onions, chili's, ginger, peanuts, and lime juice. This dish was full of great flavors and textures. I like the crunch from the rice, I can still recall the sourness of the sausage, the chili's added a little pop of spice, while the lime juice added a nice tang to tie everything together. I will admit that when she ordered this, I was skeptical, but I became a believer after my first few bites.

Another item Katie was pretty exited to order was this cup of Tom Kah Kai ($4.95). From what the menu stated, this is the Bangkok version of this soup. This unusual soup was made up of chicken, coconut milk, straw mushrooms, lemon grass, lime juice, and galanga, which is a milder version of ginger. The waiter had asked us how spicy we wanted this, and we told him about a four out of ten. This came out pretty spicy, even for me. The coconut milk did cool this soup down though. There was plenty of chicken in this soup, which was nice and tender. I thought the spiciness would overpower, but the great flavor of this soup persevered. I will definitely be on the lookout for this soup when we go to other Thai restaurants.

Probably the most common Thai dish to most Americans has become pad Thai, and Katie selected the Chicken Pad Thai ($8.95) for her entree. This dish came with stir-fried rice noodles, bean sprouts, eggs, green onion, peanuts on the side, and of course chicken. She claims that this is the best version of this classic dish that she has ever had. She singed its praises for its freshness, portion size, and the preparation they used to create it. She left Lotus of Siam almost glowing. I really enjoyed seeing her so happy.

After reading the on-line reviews for this restaurant, I knew I would be having duck for my entree, but they have four different versions of duck on the menu. I went with the Crispy Duck with Panang, which is a milder red cream curry. Quite simply, this is one of the best duck dishes I have ever had. The skin was indeed crispy, the duck was fork tender and not as greasy as other duck dishes tend to be. The red curry sauce was mild, but still had a decent pop of heat. When I saw the portion size, I was a little skeptical that this was not going to be enough for me, but it did fill me up. I, of course could have eaten more, but I did leave feeling very satisfied.

I feel that I might have to agree with what everyone says about Lotus of Siam. They are the best Thai restaurant I have been to up until this point. All of the accolades that they have received are well deserved. We are probably going to have to make time to eat at Lotus of Siam every time we come back to Vegas. It has been over a month since we were here, and I still think about the crispy duck that I had. I am also impressed with how casual and affordable Lotus of Siam is. Normally a restaurant with all of this buzz would move to swankier digs and raise prices, but they have not. The service on the night we were here was very efficient and warm. Glad Katie picked this place. Maybe since she did such a great job getting us to come here, I will listen to her a little more than I have in the past.

Out of five Asian elephants, (which is the national animal of Thailand), five being best to zero being worst, Lotus of Siam gets 4 strong Asian elephants.

For more information about Lotus of Siam, go to their website here: http://www.saipinchutima.com/

Lotus of Siam on Urbanspoon

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