>> Thursday, October 13, 2011
If you make good food, they will come.
Lotus of Siam is a simple, non-nonsense Thai restaurant located in a random strip mall on the east side of the Strip in Las Vegas. Hailed by Jonathan Gold of Gourmet Magazine as the "Best Thai Restaurant in the US," this gem of a place is almost always packed with long lines of hungry people (our wait time? 45 minutes).
Lotus of Siam is different than your run-of-the-mill Thai restaurant in a lot of ways. Most notably, they have an immense menu that includes Northern style Thai dishes, something you don't see that often in America. Furthermore, they have the most reasonably priced (and excellent) wine list we have ever seen. Well-known bottles from vineyards like Schrader, Kosta Browne, and Opus One sell for only about 10-15% above retail. In some cases, they are even cheaper than prices you could get on the open market.
We came here after a long day of hiking, so we were famished. Waiting 45 minutes just increased our hunger even more! Thankfully, there are some seats inside, and you can browse the menu while you wait. We decided to get a mix of "normal" and Northern Thai dishes.
Bryan, who's not a huge Thai food fan but loves a good bottle of wine, satisfied himself by ordering a bottle of Kosta Browne pinot noir for prices that (according to his iPhone), were very close to what you would pay retail.
GARLIC PRAWN – $21.95
Deep fried prawn with shell and sautéed with our special garlic sauce, topped with ground black pepper
Because Bryan can't eat coconut milk and doesn't really like sweet Thai dishes, we were a little limited in what we could order. Nevertheless, this meal was a good chance for Bryan to experience Thai food that wasn't just noodles in sweet goopy sauces. Thai cuisine is so much more complex than that!
They let you choose your spice level, and we went with "medium," which I thought was perfect. The server recommended the garlic prawns (pictured above), which came out piping hot and crispy. It was simple, yet executed well and tasted very good.
CRISPY DUCK WITH CHILI MINT LEAVES – $20.95
Crispy duck topped with homemade fresh chili and Thai basil
The crispy duck, also off the regular Thai menu, was excellent. They did a great job on frying the duck in a way that was crispy but not greasy. Of course, I loved the blast of flavor that came from the chili mint leaves and Thai basil.
FRESH CHILI FRIED RICE – $8.95
Stir fried with bell pepper, fresh chili, white onion and your choice of meat
The basil fried rice was unusual in that it came with seafood. This dish was fine, though I didn't think it necessarily stood out over other versions I've had elsewhere.
We also tried a couple of dishes off the northern Thai side of the menu.
NORTHERN LARB – $9.95
This northern style larb (ground pork) differs from the Issan larb (also on the menu) in that it is cooked with Northern Thai spices and no lime juice. Enjoy it with rice, accompanied by the fresh cabbage, cucumbers, and Thai basil.
ISSAN SAUSAGE – $7.95
Grilled sour pork sausage, served with fresh chili, ginger and peanut.
Issan Sausage is a common street dish from Northern Thailand and also not something you typically see in America. The sausages are fermented for days to achieve their characteristic sourness. Gorgeous fragrant ingredients such as kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and lemongrass complete the flavor profile, making this snack very, very addictive. I would definitely order this again.
STICKY RICE WITH MANGO (Seasonal) – $6.50
You can't go wrong with mango sticky rice, and Lotus of Siam prides itself in making sure the mangos are in pristine condition before they are served. Each mango slice is perfectly ripe, sweet, and without blemish.
Overall we had a great time at Lotus of Siam. The atmosphere is casual yet comfortable, and the food is delicious. I loved having the opportunity to try a bunch of more unusual dishes. I can't wait to come back again and try more.
Though Bryan still maintains he doesn't love Thai food, he's perfectly happy coming back to Lotus of Siam just to enjoy their vast wine collection at dirt cheap prices.
An Aside about New York
There is also a New York City Lotus of Siam location. However, in January of 2011, the Chutima family (owners of the original Las Vegas location) split with their partner Roy Welland and left New York. The Chutima family indicated that Mr. Welland wanted to take the restaurant to a much more upscale level, while the Chutimas wanted to keep it homey and affordable. This difference in vision seems to have eventually caused the split.
According to Chutima's daughter in an email to the New York Times,
“My parents wanted to share with our guests what my mother had learned from her grandmother since she was a little child; unfortunately, our partner here in New York seems to have a different vision, a vision far different from what Lotus of Siam Las Vegas had. Our reputation is at stake; as a result, we are terminating this relationship in order to protect our morals and values; also, to protect the image of my parents, who have worked their hardest for the past 25 years.”
So, if you've been to the Lotus of Siam in New York this past year, keep in mind that the Chutimas are no longer involved in that restaurant.
You'll have to come to Las Vegas for that.
This is part 5 of a larger Series The Vegas Anniversary. Other posts in this series:
Bouchon Bistro (lunch)
Lotus of Siam
953 E Sahara Ave
Las Vegas, NV 89104