By Nick Desideri, Staff Writer
As we return to Illinois Wesleyan University this semester, it’s important to remember the Thai restaurants we have loved and lost. Despite its glowing review in The Argus in spring 2011, Na Na Thai closed down a mere semester later. It’s too bad, considering that its location right off of Main Street made Na Na Thai accessible and easy to find.
Now Bloomington must turn to its other Thai mainstay, the Thai House of Bloomington, for its fix of spicy Southeast Asian cuisine.
While Thai House doesn’t quite match up to Na Na Thai, the food is certainly strong enough to warrant repeated visits, even though certain aspects are not quite as pleasing.
Thai House doesn’t reinvent Thai food, nor does it particularly offer any exciting tastes or flavors, but it doesn’t try to. Among the many Thai restaurants I’ve been to across the country, Thai House’s food stands out as the best taste for the price.
Don’t be tricked by Yelp or UrbanSpoon, which designate Thai House as “moderately expensive.” nine dollars for a solid curry is a steal, and the generous rice servings won’t force you to order more at extra charge.
The portions of most dishes were generous enough to leave me feeling full, but not overstuffed.
And most importantly, the food tasted great.
The panang curry, which is the dish I use to carefully and scientifically rate my favorite Thai restaurants, was very satisfying. The peanut taste came right through, unencumbered by the heavy amounts of spice some Thai eateries use to cover up a lack of flavor. While it lacked some body and could be thicker, it was definitely not soupy.
My one major caveat: despite a healthy amount of chicken in the curry, adding the standard peppers would have given it a bit more texture.
The veggie-fried rice ranked higher than the normal Asian restaurant fare, and the Pad Thai was some of the most flavorful I’ve had. The pineapple-fried rice was also noteworthy.
But the best food at Thai House is free.
On your way out, make sure to grab a Thai fortune roll (the authenticity of which are suspect) for some hilariously specific predictions. Mine forecasted a “promotion at my firm,” while a friend’s noted that “Some folks prefer their luck buttered.”
Some sage advice right there.
Obviously, I have very few complaints about the food. Thai House’s real problem is that everything surrounding the dining experience seemed lackluster.
Though no fault of its own, Thai House’s location hurts its appeal. Situated in a very industrial part of town and flanked by factories, the restaurant’s large windows are actually a drawback.
I would avoid looking out the windows if Thai House had any semblance of cohesive decor. Most of the trinkets and ornaments are near the entrance, which is visibly cut off from the dining area. From the expansive windows to the plain seating, I occasionally wondered if I was actually eating in a Denny’s.
While scenery can be overlooked, tepid service wrecks a dining experience. A minor slip-up occurred when the tofu in my friend’s Lad Na was not fried as requested. Though our waitress offered to send it back to the kitchen, it was still inconveniencing.
More awkward was the large gap in serving time for our group. Two individuals received their food before the others, and I expected the waitress to reappear with the rest of the orders.
No such luck.
After urging those with food to start eating so we could get home in time for Breaking Bad, the remaining orders arrived about ten minutes later. This made for an awkwardly paced meal. One half of the table was mostly finished while the other just began eating.
For such basic dishes, the overall time we waited for food was off-putting. Perhaps it was a fluke, since when I went a second time, service was flawless. Meals were delivered promptly with no gaps.
For the average college student on a budget, Thai House offers great cuisine at fantastic value. The curries are tasty, the vegetarian options extensive, and it all feels like a bargain.
The problem is the wait leading up to the food. Uninspiring decor and communication issues between waiters and cooks can annoy, but not enough to ruin the experience.
If you feel like your luck is buttered well enough to dodge some of the inconveniences and score some great cheap food in the process, Thai House is the place to do it.