Real foodies know that it’s always best to have a few different spots to choose from … and not just a few spots, but a few spots depending on what part of town they’re in. It’s not just about what’s good, but what’s good around here. You gotta have options.At the crossroads of the far North Valley, and the Westside sits Thai Kitchen. From the outside looking in, hanging out at the end of an average-looking strip mall, it’s an easy place to overlook. That would be a mistake. The cold steel and glass outside immediately give way to warm, earthy tones, gorgeous carved wood features, and cheerful, vibrant art and appointments, along with promising scents from the kitchen.We started with spring rolls ($4.95 for two), always in the running as my favorite appetizer. Fresh strips of carrot, cabbage, lettuce and cilantro, a cold tangle of noodles, and your choice of shrimp or tofu, all wrapped in rice paper with a peanut dipping sauce—it’s a fresh bite to start your meal and hints at bigger Thai flavors to come. The potstickers ($5.95 for six) are the crispy-fried variety, stuffed with minced chicken and the herbaceous punch of cilantro, plus a sweet dipping sauce with heat that shouldn’t worry timid diners. Last in the trinity of holy Thai appetizers: egg rolls ($4.50 for two). I find Thai egg rolls are typically a touch on the small side, and too often heavy on the minced veggies and oil—leaving them a bit flat. But Thai Kitchen’s are not only bigger with a flaky, crunchy-fried wrapper, but offer up a great balance between the pork and veggies within. As cliché as it may be, they were my favorite of the appetizers by just a nose—but you won’t go wrong with any of these.If it’s a gray day, the kind where winter just won’t let go, take the tom yum soup ($9.95 to $13.95 depending on your protein)—served in the world’s biggest soup bowl! Think of a sturdy stew with onions, tomatoes and mushrooms in a clear, spicy orange stock of ginger and lemongrass, freckled with green onions and featuring the protein of your choice. It’s a simple, vinegar-tinged bowl with a mellow chili heat. One bowl is absolutely plenty for an entire table—a nice starter for everyone if the other appetizers don’t float your boat, especially on those wind-blown days.If it’s lunchtime and you’re intimidated by the menu, here’s our pick for a super-safe dish that will fill you up: the combination fried rice ($10.95). It’s chicken, steak and pork in a basic and approachable fried rice. We’re talking egg, tomato, onions, celery and rice—all things you know—and a great way to dip your toe in and test the waters. The lunch specials are a good and affordable way to get a quick tour of the menu’s highlights, always coming with a cup of the soup-of-the-day. Like the fried rice, pad thai with chicken ($8.50 for chicken, beef, pork, tofu or vegetables/$10.50 for shrimp) is a staple of Thai cuisine and a fine gateway dish to the rest on offer. The blend of crushed red pepper flakes and peanut oil, thin rice noodles, the lemongrass and cabbage —it’s no accident that this is where many first-timers start, and Thai Kitchen’s definitely measures up. If you’ve never had Thai, give it a try.But if this ain’t your first rodeo, then try the Massaman curry with chicken ($10.95): a luscious and butter-creamy curried gravy with spicy hunks of potato, tomatoes and peanuts. I ordered “hot” and the silky, creamy character of the curry sauce, served with a decent-sized bowl of rice, does quiet down the burn—so order a touch hotter than you typically would.Not so with the spicy Jungle noodles with beef ($9.95) which I also ordered “hot.” A small chop of cabbage and carrots with rice noodles as wide as the interstate, some broccoli, onions and thin-sliced, well-done bits of beef, all pan-fried in chili paste—and hot damn, that’ll get your nose running! The noodles were slathered in the fiery, garlicky sauce without going the least bit heavy or oily. By the third bite I knew I’d stumbled on a brand-new must-have. Add a beer (perhaps the mysterious Thai Kitchen lager) to squelch that heat, and now you’re really dining! So the next time you find yourself on the far northern reaches of the city, get yourself a little bit of what’s definitely good around there.
Thai Kitchen10701 Corrales NW(505) 890-0059thaikitchennm.comHours: Mon-Fri 11am-3pm, 4:30-9pm; Sat noon-9pmVibe: An exterior that belies an atmosphere as serene as a temple, as warm as sunshine on a carved wood wallAlibi Recommends: Egg rolls, spicy Jungle noodles w/ beef, and a Thai Kitchen lager