By: Lauren Zajac On: June 12, 2012
My excitement to check out Spoon Thai was palpable. After seeing it lauded on numerous Chicago food forums, I went in with the mentality that this was THE place for Thai (or at least in the top five worth checking out). So, with my printed Thai translated menu in hand, I made my way up to Spoon Thai, eagerly anticipating a whole lotta funk and flavor.
The verdict: Pretty good; plenty of things I really liked, but nothing that I couldn’t live without.
Spoon Thai is huddled amidst a number of other notable Thai restaurants in Lincoln Square, in an unassuming storefront that boldly proclaims the name. After easily finding street parking, the husband and I ventured towards the restaurant, where we were promptly seated at a corner table. We spent a few minutes just taking in the décor, which consisted of heavily-wooded tables and 3-D silver paintings of elephants (I have no idea what such paintings are called; all I know is that they are really freakin’ cool and I wanted to buy one and take it home with me). Spoon Thai is relatively small and comfortable, and there was a variety of diners visiting that evening, from a couple sharing a bottle of wine to a family with small children. Such a setting seemed to work – it was casual without feeling cheap and was accessible to a wide assortment of diners.
There are two main menus to order from at Spoon Thai: a more Americanized menu that boasts many of the recognizable dishes (curries, pad thai, soups and salads) and a translated Thai menu, which offers more traditional dishes. My husband and I went with a mix of both menus, figuring that we could sample some of the old standbys and mix in a more authentic menu as well. Each menu had some hits and misses, though we seemed to favor the translated menu. Here’s the breakdown:
Not what most would picture when ordering a salad, Name Khao Thawt was the first dish out the gates and didn’t disappoint. The standout of this dish was the pressed ham, which was rich, fresh, and fatty. Paired with the crispy fried rice, this dish was a great flavor combination. It’s a great, summery dish that was a rock-solid way to start off the meal.
I have really fond thoughts of Tom Yum soup. It strikes me as a great compliment to a meal – bold and flavorful, with a sourness that packs a punch. Spoon Thai’s Tom Yum has its ups and downs and wasn’t quite as memorable as I had originally anticipated. While it definitely packs a bold flavor, there’s an overwhelming sweetness that I couldn’t place (tamarind, perhaps) that took away from the dish. I would have preferred more sourness and a bit more heat to make this soup more memorable.
Simply plated on a bed of lettuce adorned with peanuts and ginger, this pork and rice sausage was an easy favorite. Small, with a meatball-like consistency, these were quickly consumed and labeled as a hit by my husband. Sai Krawk Issan brought that fermented funk flavor that Thai food is known for.
Perhaps the theme of Spoon Thai is simple yet refreshing; and this was another dish that worked. Larb, otherwise known as a meat salad (seriously, what’s better than a meat salad?) was just that: juicy, fatty, sliced pork neck was drizzled with lime juice. It was complimented by chilies, cilantro, and rice powder, all placed delicately on a small pile of lettuce.
Not pictured: Crazy Spicy Noodles. These were neither spicy, nor crazy and were completely unmemorable. So much so that we didn’t even take a pic (quick, take away my food blogger cred). This dish lacked flavor, though I’m planning to heat it up later and see if it fares better after a few hours.
I love me a good curry and eat it pretty frequently. This was a pretty solid dish. Heavy on the coconut milk with light hint of lime, the curry itself was satisfyingly mouthwatering. The chicken mixed in was tender and well-cooked, and there was a slow-burning heat that built as I worked my way to the bottom of the bowl. I probably could have gotten more creative and not ordered chicken mixed in, but it worked well with the curry base. The Red Thai Curry was just an all-around good, filling dish that I would love to eat again.
They smelled like a funnel cake, with a nice ratio of dough to banana. These would be great to snack on but were a bit overshadowed by the other dessert samplings.
Don’t let the unappealing picture above fool you! I’m not sure why that cashew looks so phallic, but it tasted pretty amazing. I was expecting something more like flan, but this custard had more of a consistency of a tres leches cake. Each bite was heavy on the coconut milk, perfect for a light dessert.
Sticky rice is pretty delicious in any incarnation, and Spoon Thai’s version did not disappoint. The rice was perfectly sweet, and the fresh mango paired well; highly recommended.
There’s a lot to like about Spoon Thai. It’s BYOB, so had I thought ahead, I would have been imaginative with my beverage pairings. Also, the service is perfectly attentive and quick, and we managed to eat a lot of food in a short amount of time without feeling like competitive eaters. Perhaps the biggest misses were errors with ordering, and I know for the future to get more creative with my choices and think outside the normal dishes that I order every time I have Thai.
Even though the area is crowded with other Thai establishments, there are still a few reasons that Spoon Thai would be easy to revisit. Perhaps the biggest draw is the Thai translated menu, which offers variety beyond the more well-known Thai dishes, like curries and satays. Also, I really appreciated the lightness of each dish, which makes Spoon Thai a place that would be easy to come back to throughout the summer.
Overall, Spoon Thai presents a solid option for quick and flavorful Thai food. Both menus offered some stand-out (and weaker) choices, so my best suggestion would be to order a variety and take home the leftovers. Still, the reasonable prices and overall experience would definitely lure me back for a repeat visit (though next time I will be armed with beer!)
|Spoon Thai||The Stockyard 10|
|Vibe||Quick and friendly|
|Crowd||Varied – small groups, couples, and families were all present|
|Soundtrack||The best Rolling Stones and Beatles cover ever|
|Drinks||BYOB with no corkage fee|
|Cost/person||$25 – 30 per person|
|Revisitability||B Easy enough to grab a table on weeknights, might be a bit more crowded on weekends|
|Service||B+ Fast and efficient service|
|Food||B Some well-known classics and more traditional Thai dishes|