What is it about Thai food? It seems to be the least threatening course for those who usually stick to the culinary mainstream. Other Asian fare (like Vietnamese) simply hasn't made the inroads that Thai food has, what with its safe-bet pad Thai and its coconut curries. Thai food must have a great publicist.
And maybe that's why it's always busy come lunchtime at west Fort Worth's Thai Rice 'N' Noodle.
Wisely, its owners are banking on this familiarity with a new restaurant on the city's southwest side.
Open since September, Thai Select offers solid food like its sister restaurant, but in a slightly more upscale experience. Add a great location to the mix -- Hulen Street and Loop 820 -- and it's already proven to be a recipe for success.
The restaurant (formerly a frozen yogurt shop) features a busy, cramped dining room full of small tables and a short bar at the back. Waitresses wiggle through the aisles to take your order. Already, there's a bustle here that you don't see at a lot of restaurants locally. Diners seem to be excited to eat the food, and co-owner Apiradee "Amy" Thanpaisarnsamut is really happy to cook and serve it.
It's certainly evident. The food is fresh and broadly spiced (on a 1 to 5 scale) and the menu is extensive, offering traditional Thai curries to nontraditional teriyaki entrees.
We tried the fresh spring rolls ($2.75 for two), stuffed with lettuce, vermicelli noodles, scallions, carrots and bean sprouts, and our dinner was off to a great start. Enclosed in tender rice paper, they have a lettuce-wrap sensibility, but dipped in the delicious peanut sauce, they take on an identity of their own. Each ingredient is vibrant and tasty.
I tend to laugh in the face of spice indices, so I order the lo-mein noodles with tofu ($9) and ask for it to be spiced to a 5. My companion companionably orders his pad Thai with chicken ($9) at a 4, knowing full well I will probably be reaching for his when I realize I've over-spiced.
He's right, and it's kind of a shame. My noodles are great: Slick with brown sauce and tossed with broccoli and fried tofu, they are generous in portion, too. But I cannot overcome the barrage of peppers on my plate. I start eating the pad Thai, with its peanuts and scallions and bean sprouts, and begin to settle in for the long haul, much to my man's chagrin.
A liquor license is pending, so we have brought beer and, boy, we're happy.
Drinking one's lunch used to be cool, a la Mad Men, but these days, it seems to be frowned upon. So on another visit, we just make do with Thai Select's fantastic lunch special menu.
For $8.25, you can choose from 20 options, most of which are served with white or brown rice, a choice of egg or spring roll, a house salad and an iced tea.
The pad see ew, stir-fried noodles in a black sauce with eggs, bean sprouts and broccoli, is comfort on a plate. Spiced to a 4, the flavors are balanced, a good mix between the sweet sauce and the fiery peppers. The green curry is a delicate near-stew of coconut milk, bamboo shoots, eggplant, basil and bell pepper. The nutty brown rice served on the side sops up the creamy sauce quite nicely.
With the entry of Thai Select to the southwest corridor mix, it's easy to forget about the Chinese buffets and chains in this area. And for when the nearby Southwest Parkway finally goes up in a few years, is it too early to vote for an exit to be named Thai Select Avenue? Until then, follow the steady stream of cars there.
Their website is still under construction, but check them out on Facebook.