Amy Thanpaisarnsamut and her family are trying their level best to bring Thai food to the forefront in Fort Worth. First, her cousin opened Thai Rice ’n’ Noodle in 2006 on the city’s far west side. Three years ago, Amy pinpointed the Hulen and 820 corridor for a second restaurant, with Thai Select. Then, a year later, Thailicious debuted in Arlington Heights.
Clearly, the enterprising family has, um, curried favor with the pad Thai and Tom Yum soup-loving crowd. Look no further than the busy lunchtime dining room at Spice, their recently opened fourth venture located at the eastern end of the restaurant row on Magnolia Avenue, and you’ll easily see this.
The restaurant is attractive on the outside with a wood-planked facade and on the inside, large pendant lights render the space in a minimalist glow. There are no paintings or decorations up just yet — Amy says she’ll add them in the near future — so the purple, turquoise and gray walls paired with stained cement floors convey a contemporary vibe.
And that’s kind of where Spice is going with its food, too. The vast menu spans edamame to beef in oyster sauce, and the fare here is nearly identical in execution to the other restaurants’ offerings. But the difference is that chef Pakawalee “Jang” Comvieng is cooking up a handful of more refined, au courant Thai dishes, like kao soi (noodles with curry, $11 to $15) and duck kra prow ($19).
The majority of the lunch crowd I witnessed, however, was ordering the specials (11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.), a good deal at $9.95 for a spring roll or egg roll, small salad and entree.
We started with a spring roll, which, unfortunately, we did not order with shrimp. Our veggie-centric version was like a small salad, one shredded vegetable virtually indistinguishable from the next. It greatly needed the accompanying peanut sauce to establish any flavor.
The garlic sauce with tofu, on the other end of the spectrum, was drowning in flavor. The sauce was so heavy-handed it tended to overshadow the tasty trifecta of broccoli, carrots and nicely fried tofu. The dish came paired with the restaurant’s nutty brown rice.
The yum neua (spicy beef salad, $11) was a winning dish that paired grilled beef strips with tomatoes, onions and cilantro. While we ordered the dish as a 3 (on a spiciness scale of 1 to 5), we were blown away by its potency. The abundance of sliced onions on the dish also seemed disproportionate to the rest of the ingredients.
Other entrees such as the king prawn chu chee ($17) and cashew nuts with beef ($11) more expertly toed the stir-fry line, with ample servings of veggies, and in the chu chee, a generous serving of shrimp.
The service at Spice was occasionally cumbersome and slow during our experience. The restaurant seems to have the opposite problem that some other restaurants have; there were simply too many people trying to do the same job. But something tells us, in time, the wait staff — and Spice itself — will likely find its groove.
Situated on a block just east of Hemphill, Spice is next door to a small bar called Proper, where you can get its Thai dishes delivered. Despite the growing roster of restaurants along Magnolia Avenue, Spice is the first full-fledged Thai restaurant to drop anchor here in the last few years. Judging from the Thanpaisarnsamut family’s success in other areas of Fort Worth, and from the hungry hospital district’s lunch crowd, we fully expect Spice to fit in quite nicely here.