Happy Bowl Too, which moved into the old Tommy’s Hamburger Grill spot in one of west Fort Worth’s original restaurant rows, has all the visual verve of an accounting firm’s reception area — pale avocado walls with a smattering of photos and textile wall hangings, and chairs that are pew-stiff.
But you don’t come here for decorating tips.
Authentic and delicious Thai food, plus affordable prices, is what will bring you back again and again. That’s the formula that made the original “hole-in-the-wall” Happy Bowl, in far west Fort Worth, a local favorite. And, from what we tasted recently, the tradition continues at this new second location.
Each dish showcased the ingredient push-me-pull-you of most Thai cooking. Mild to fiery peppers are defused by cooling cilantro or thatches of cabbage. Curry dishes, running the spicy gamut from tame to flame, are neatly offset by the inherent sweetness of coconut milk or pineapple. And nutty brown rice brings desired texture and absorbency to so many of the stewlike dishes.
Neither the Thai egg rolls ($4.95) nor the steamed pot stickers ($7) were too comfort-food-predictable. The four egg rolls had such deliciously crackling fried exteriors that they risked shattering if dropped. Their interior was the opposite: a moist mélange of pork, carrots and cabbage. Meanwhile, the steamed pot stickers were paragons of form, each a pocket as soft as a down comforter, and so dippable in the accompanying mahogany-colored teriyaki sauce.
Happy Bowl Too is rightfully proud of its 11 soups, each one warding off the chill of any future ice storm. But the tom kha soup ($7.95 for a small bowl) may be the best anti-winter antidote we’ve tried anywhere. Its coconut-based broth delivered a stunning sweet heat, but it was also an irresistible base for crunchy scallions, meaty chicken strips, little mushroom caps and a minty flurry of cilantro.
Most of Happy Bowl Too’s dishes allow you to pick the spice level — from one to five, in ascending order. My panang curry ($11), ordered at level two, had just the right amount of peppery kick. Its soupy consistency (it actually came in a large soup bowl) read more like Hungarian goulash, especially as it was brimming with shards of tasty beef.
Two even more substantial dishes were the pad ped and the pad see eew.
It’s always a gamble to go after anything wearing the obviously subjective “highly recommended” label, yet the pad ped ($11) delivered. A mixed-seafood selection of squid ringlets, scallop disks, tail-on shrimp, and plump and juicy mussels bobbed in a ruddy sea of red curry chili paste, all of it brightened by sweet basil and sliced lime leaves.
An even more rib-sticking choice was the pad see eew ($13 if you add duck; $10 for chicken, beef or pork), which featured a thicket of broad rice noodles, a melee of carrot circles, crunchy broccoli and shards of succulent duck meat, all bound up in a lusty Thai soy and oyster sauce that coated the dish the way a pan gravy might.
At the end of a Happy Bowl Too meal, here’s what didn’t matter: The menu contained no desserts. For now, anyway, it’s BYOB. And there were a few server miscues.
But keeping in mind that this Happy Bowl is a pup, open several weeks, those rough edges can be sanded away. More importantly, Happy Bowl Too seems right on track to keep its loyal fans happy and full.