By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
The menu at Vieng Thai, the best Thai restaurant in Houston, is spell-binding. I've never heard of half the dishes on it. And although I've eaten three belt-busting meals here, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. I want to keep coming back until I've eaten all 12 appetizers, seven soups, 14 Thai salads, six curries, ten rice dishes, eight vegetarian dishes, 19 entrées and 14 noodle bowls. But unfortunately, the time has come to stop eating and write the damn review.
Vieng Thai is not a fancy restaurant. It's a mom-and-pop affair where Dad works the weekends (he runs a print shop during the week) and Mom works the weekdays. The extremely modest dining room has scuffed concrete floors, cheesy fixtures and a decor dominated by a wide-screen television and a karaoke setup. The air-conditioning is so bad that regulars take turns pointing a high-speed portable fan at their tables. On the plus side, flip-flops, T-shirts and shorts are all okay by this joint's dress code. And you're welcome to bring your own beer. (The food is so hot, you'd better bring a 12-pack.)
Vieng Thai has a strange relationship with mainstream diners. It's a Thai restaurant for Thais, so the servers have to do a balancing act. They will try to talk you out of dishes they don't think you will like. But they will give you the strange stuff if you insist. And if you ask for your food to be prepared hot and spicy, it will be hot and spicy indeed.
6929 Long Point
Houston, TX 77055
Region: Outer Loop - NW
E-sarn sausage: $6.99
Tom kha gai (chicken soup): $6.99
Som tum (papaya slaw): $5.99
Tiger gy (steak): $11.99
Kee mao (noodles): $6.99
"I could eat here every night," one of my chile-pepper-loving dining companions sighed into her fiery tom kha gai on our second visit. The chicken soup was extraordinary. I've never seen a broth so bright white with coconut milk, or tasted so much lemongrass, kaffir lime and chile peppers in Thai chicken soup.
On a different visit, the tom yum goong, a spicy hot-and-sour soup with shrimp and mushrooms, sent another one of my dining companions on a short trip through inner space. The soup is loaded with whole dried chiles, and he inadvertently chomped down on a couple. He closed his eyes and winced until the hallucinations passed. Then he respectfully fished the rest of the short brown peppers out of his soup bowl before proceeding.
The massamancurry with beef, coconut milk, potatoes and peanuts probably drew the most enthusiastic response from my companions. The dense red curry had a healthy dose of ground peanuts, which tasted sensational with the beef chunks and spicy chiles. It was the richest dish we ate here. The green curry with chicken was more typical of Thai curries. It was thin and soupy and served in a bowl. We should have requested rice bowls so we could spoon lots of the sauce over our rice. I love this kind of Thai curry, but it's a mistake to try to eat it on a plate.
The E-sarn sausage was also a big hit. E-sarn (or Esarn) is a remote region of northeast Thailand that is famous for its lemongrass- and garlic-flavored sausage. At Vieng Thai, the fried sausage slices are served with a garnish of chopped red onions, cilantro, peanuts and chile peppers.
I've given up on ordering pad thai. Like nearly every other place in Houston, Vieng Thai puts the chiles and other condiments on the side instead of mixing them into the noodles. This is supposed to allow you to season it the way you like it, but it's a little like being served naked spaghetti with the marinara sauce, meatballs and crushed red pepper on the side. So now I always get the kee mao(drunken noodles), a spicy stir-fry of slippery, curly noodles, chicken chunks, garlic and onions with lots of chiles and basil, all mixed together thoroughly. Vieng Thai's kee mao is one of the best I've had.
My daughter, who tries to avoid the hottest Thai dishes, was delighted with the Thai ginger chicken, which included white meat chicken, slivers of fresh ginger, mushrooms and onions in a Thai ginger sauce. She also loved the pad thai for the same reason I avoid it. The mildest dish we sampled at Vieng Thai was the tiger cry (tiger gy on the menu), a plate of thin slices of New York strip steak cooked well-done and served with a spicy dipping sauce. The gently spiced appetizers we tried included soft spring rolls, chicken satay with peanut sauce and the deep-fried fish cakes called tod mun.
Plenty of things on Vieng Thai's menu turned out to be mild enough for the meek. And then some dishes proved too bizarre even for the adventurous.
The refreshing salad called som tum is a slaw of tart and crunchy shredded green papaya seasoned with lime, garlic, chiles and fish sauce. There are two versions available at Vieng Thai: Thai and Laotian. The Thai som tum was one of the best things we tried on our first visit to the restaurant, so on my last visit, I asked for the Laotian version. The waitress told me I wouldn't like it. I assured her that I've eaten Laotian food before and know all about the funky fish sauce. So she agreed to bring it on.