Alibi V.19 No.17 • April 29-May 5, 2010 

Restaurant Review

Thai Cuisine II

A garden of surprises

Pineapple red curry—spicy, sweet, fragrant and creamy with coconut
Pineapple red curry—spicy, sweet, fragrant and creamy with coconut
Sergio Salvador

Stepping into the pragmatically named Thai Cuisine II is like taking a 15-hour plane ride in the blink of an eye. While it’s not exactly Thailand inside, the dining room is a pleasant sanctuary, warmly painted in earthy red and sunset orange, and hung with near-florescent paintings of colorful, idyllic scenes. You quickly forget that you just walked into a red metal roofed A-frame that looks like an old Dairy Queen.

A mango and sticky rice dessert
A mango and sticky rice dessert
Sergio Salvador

A caddy of sauces at the bar hints at the kitchen’s seriousness. There’s a chile-garlic sauce I could eat with plain rice and be happy, and some mellow pickled onions and peppers. There’s also a sweet, salty fish sauce with thinly sliced hot chilies: After a pungently savory beginning comes a creeping heat that takes its slow, torturous time—like the suspense of discovering a hit has been put on your life. If there were a Best of Burque category for house-made condiments at restaurants, this would be a contender.

The menu’s large selection of salads is a strong suit. The green papaya salad (som tum) was crispy and delicate, just fishy and limey enough, if a bit small. The trout salad, meanwhile, was huge in every way. A large, tempura-fried piece of red trout flesh was buried under a colorful and fragrant salad, topped with roasted peanuts, and drenched in a tangy tamarind dressing. Not to be missed.

To test the small sushi menu, I tried a New Mexico roll (green chile, avocado and krab) with a leaf-shaped mound of wasabi resting beside it. It was big and adequate for $5.50, though Thai Cuisine II won’t often be confused for a sushi bar. A bottle of palm nectar made from the sap of coconut trees was an interesting and refreshing drink, velvety sweet and syrupy without added sugar. A side order of sticky rice was delivered in a gorgeous woven bamboo container. Beneath a tight-fitting lid, the rice was enclosed in a Ziploc sandwich bag (which was somehow endearing). While a little unwieldy, the sticky rice was magnificently absorbent with sauces like the trout’s tamarind salad dressing.

If there were a Best of Burque category for house-made condiments at restaurants, this would be a contender.

One afternoon, a phoned-in take-out order took disappointingly long time—20 minutes, and the restaurant wasn’t very busy. It seemed like they didn’t start making the food until I got there. Another woman arrived after me, and I watched her experience the same thing.

I finally made it home with some very good pad thai and perhaps the best tom yum I’ve had in town. The sweat-inducing, sour-and-spicy tomato soup was potent and assertive with the right balance of tamarind, galanga, ginger and lemongrass.

Pad kee mow didn’t come together as perfectly. The stir-fried wide rice noodles with egg, chiles, tomatoes, garlic, basil and broccoli looked good on paper, but it just didn’t work. (Although if I wasn’t going back and forth between it and that pad thai, I may not have noticed as acutely.)

On my next visit I ordered guay teow soup, a kind of Thai-style pho that comes with chicken or veggie broth. You also get your choice of proteins, and I went with mussels. It was a satisfying noodle soup, hitting my pho-spot in a maritime way, even if the side salad was weak compared to what you get in a Viet place. Pad cha, a stir-fry flavored with krachai rhizome, was chock-full of snap peas, zucchini, carrots, peppers and basil. Rhizome is a type of root found in spreading plants like bamboo, and it lent the dish a mild gingery flavor that I’d never experienced. Pineapple red curry was spicy, sweet, fragrant and creamy with coconut—basically, what I want in a curry.

In fact, despite a few stumbles, this place is what I want in a Thai restaurant. I left curious, with many intriguing menu items urging me to hurry back. I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of what that A-framed kitchen can do.

View Thai Cuisine II in Alibi Chowtown Chowtown

The Alibi Recommends

• Trout salad with sticky rice
• Pad cha stir-fry
• Tom yum soup

Thai Cuisine II

4201 Central NE
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday thorugh Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday
Price range: Lunch specials (served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) start at $5.95 and include a tasty little bowl of lemongrass soup, vegetarian egg rolls with a honey-peanut dipping sauce, and a dessert of warm tapioca coconut porridge and fresh fruit. Other prices top out at $11.95 .
Ambience: Pleasant and cozy
Vegetarian options: Abundant
Booze: No
Plastic: Yes