"I hope you like Thai food," read the email that arrived for this issue’s assignment, which was to sample three same or similar dishes at three selected restaurants. I decided I’d try them for lunch and to make the fairest comparison, I’d visit all three locations on the same day. I also enlisted my adventuresome friend Sarah and her taste buds to take this mini-tour of local Thai. Before heading out, we chose our dishes: Tom Yum Soup, Green Curry and Pad Thai. I don’t know about Sarah, but I skipped breakfast.
Thai Bistro is a tiny restaurant located in a small strip plaza. It’s cozy and attractive in an understated way, featuring framed fabric squares of embroidered elephants hanging on the walls. They offer only authentic Thai cuisine. The hot and sour Chicken Tom Yum Soup ($2.95) is based in chicken broth and contains mushrooms, red onions, green bell peppers, scallions, cilantro and tomatoes flavored with galangal root, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Incredibly fresh with tender chicken, it delivered a good bite, leaving a burning sensation on my lips. The hint of lime added a delicious touch as did the tomatoes. Neither of us had tried Tom Yum Soup before and we were very impressed. Sarah said it lingered lovely on her tongue. Their Beef Green Curry ($7.95) is a green curry paste in coconut milk with bell peppers, basil leaves, green beans, zucchini and bamboo shoots. We ordered it “mild” and maybe should have spiced it up a notch. The beef and vegetables were nicely cooked and while not bad by any means, the top flavor we experienced was lime and it needed something more. Chicken Pad Thai ($6.95), the Thai national noodle dish with rice noodles, sautéed egg, ground peanuts, bean sprouts and scallions, is my go-to choice. Thai Bistro delivered a slightly sweet, superb version with crisp vegetables, juicy chicken and excellent peanut flavor—I’d say it was the best I’ve ever tasted.
Thai Spice & Sushi Restaurant is located in a larger strip mall. It’s a bigger space than Thai Bistro but almost no attention has been given to décor. We switched from chicken and ordered the spicy and sour Shrimp Tom Yum Soup ($3.95). Much to our surprise, it looked nothing like the Tom Yum at Thai Bistro. Instead of a golden broth, it was chili red in color, oily, and contained only shrimp, mushrooms and green onions. Even though the shrimp—three of them—were properly done, the chili spice was the single flavor that came through. Here, the Beef Green Curry ($9.95) contains bell peppers, basil, green beans, zucchini, napa cabbage and eggplant. However, when the dish was placed in front of us we didn’t see any green beans or eggplant. Upon inquiring, we were told the kitchen was out and pea pods were substituted. I was slightly disappointed by this until I took my first bite. Their “mild” offering showed a bit more spice making everything tastier. The beef strips were delicious. The Chicken Pad Thai ($7.95) was more on the sour side of the spectrum and as far as I could tell the peanuts were sprinkled on top rather than folded into the mixture. The chicken was tender and plentiful. I had initially judged this book by its cover and was pleasantly surprised to discover the food was really quite good, with the exception of the soup which was not to my liking.
The Sand Trap Sports Bar & Grill is the biggest of these three restaurants and is also in a large strip shopping center. It’s not loaded with sports memorabilia but there are 10 large screen televisions, each tuned to a different station. In addition to a complete complement of Thai selections, there is a broad range of American fare.
The menu description of the Shrimp Tom Yum Soup ($5.25), or Lemongrass Soup as it’s named here, is “spicy . . . with fresh mushrooms.” We found it to be extremely lemony and not at all spicy. It was served piping hot and held three large shrimp. The Beef Green Curry ($9.95) was served in a bowl next to the rice, as opposed to on top of it like the other two restaurants. It contained basil, bamboo shoots and eggplant. Their “mild” preparation was the spiciest of the three and in fact induced sweat on my forehead. Through the spice, the beef strips had good flavor. We had to dig through the sauce to find the eggplant, and I was happy to find solid rather than mushy chunks. The Chicken Pad Thai ($9.95) at the Sand Trap fell between sweet and sour and didn’t have as much peanut flavor. The noodles here were the chewiest without being overdone, which to me is a good thing. Both dishes were attractively garnished with wispy carrot curls and orchid flowers. We were offered three pepper pots in case we wanted to add more heat, but we didn’t.
At the end of the day, Sarah and I discussed, somewhat at length, the Tom Yum Soup at Thai Bistro. It was the highlight of our culinary journey. Our own preferences would find us going back to Thai Bistro for overall atmosphere, value and quality. My pick for Green Curry was Thai Spice and hers was the Sand Trap. For Pad Thai, I like sweet over sour which leads me back to Thai Bistro, while Sarah’s choice was the more sour than sweet Thai Spice. I recommend you take your own tour of the area’s variety of Thai restaurants, just maybe not all in one day.
537 B Venice Avenue East, Venice
Thai Spice & Sushi Restaurant
533 U.S. Highway 41 Bypass North, Venice
Sand Trap Sports Bar & Grill
4145 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice