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
See more photos from Njoy's pleasant dining room and cozy kitchen in our slideshow.
Montrose is lousy with Thai restaurants. There's old-guard establishments like Nidda Thai, turning out plate after endless plate of slightly overpriced chu chee eggplant for diners who lovingly regard the restaurant as if it were their own well-worn living room. Then there's Americanized spots like Khun Kay, where pumpkin specials run during the fall months and the menu aims to please a broad range of palates by offering Chinese food and even french fries alongside Thai standards. And don't forget tony restaurants like Thai Sticks, where Greek influences are blended into classic Thai dishes and a beautiful patio helps ease some of the sting left by high prices.
So what makes newcomer Njoy Thai stand out in the crowd? The fact that it takes all the best of its neighboring Thai restaurants and blends them into one: The food is accessible and inexpensive but doesn't skimp on quality; the service is welcoming and friendly; and the atmosphere is nice enough for a date night but casual enough for a quick meal — it's clean and cute, with minor hints of elegance in the form of white tablecloths (albeit covered by glass tops) and the kind of beaded napkin rings your mother would love. There are linen towels in the bathroom, not paper ones, and an inviting bar — although there's no alcohol served as of yet.
212 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006
1209 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77019
Region: River Oaks
It doesn't hurt that Njoy encourages you to BYOB, however, which further reduces your total bill and allows you to customize your wine or beer as you see fit. (Most Thai restaurants in Houston, after all, have a pretty limited selection of both.) In the front corner of Njoy's recently remodeled dining room is a raised, curtain-covered cabana — perfect for a group — where I'm currently planning to gather friends over a few good bottles of wine and some lovely, above-average Thai food.
And that's what Njoy is, in the end: pleasantly above average. It doesn't try to be the most authentic Thai food in the city (that's best left to Vieng Thai) or disintegrate your tastebuds with spice, but it certainly does try to elevate your standard dishes of pad thai or massamun curry into something more elegant, more cultivated and simply more pleasant overall.
A plate of pad kee mao — those so-called "drunken noodles" — is served with a colorful array of vegetables amidst its angel hair-like strands of smoky, stir-fried rice noodles: pops of red from tomatoes and chile flakes, bright green from basil, softly sautéed onions and tawny mushrooms rounding out the plate under a gentle blanket of garlic and fish sauce that are never too pungent or overpowering. Too often, I've seen this dish arrive at other restaurants looking like a drunk person's handiwork, the noodles sloppily piled on a plate with frozen vegetables hidden under the beige mess. Not at Njoy.
The same effort goes into its pad thai, which is served inside of an omelet — a charming and enjoyably different way to incorporate the standard scrambled eggs into the dish — that must be broken into like a giant soup dumpling to reveal the wonderfully nutty, scallion-laced noodles inside. I asked for my pad thai spicy and was pleased to see that Njoy delivered a heat level comparable to that at another recent Thai favorite: Little Serow in Washington, D.C.
Comparing the two places would be otherwise unfair — Little Serow is one of the country's best new restaurants and serves a very specific subset of Northern Thai food — except for one thing: Over a recent lunch, my boyfriend admitted something surprising to me.
"After going to Little Serow, I thought I'd be disappointed in Njoy," he said. "But I'm not." Neither was I. Because other than the heat level (which only comes on request), comparing the two is like apples and oranges. Little Serow offers an eye-opening, mind-broadening Thai experience.
Njoy, on the other hand, offers the kind of "comfort" Thai food that many of us grew up with, made with care and obviously fresh ingredients. The spring rolls are clearly rolled to order, never sticky or tough, and served with a peanut sauce that's laced with a maddeningly sweet-and-tangy spice I can't place. Tod mun pla, fried fish cakes, use a crispy batter that's light and airy around the curry- and kaffir-infused cakes, held together with only the barest bit of egg. And som tum salad comes heaped high with julienned slices of tart green papaya and sweet, earthy carrot over crunchy peanuts, fat little tomatoes and tiny dried shrimp that are as beautifully preserved as museum pieces.
And although the service can sometimes be a little harried, it's always friendly and warm. The servers — including Francisco, whom many Montrose residents may recognize from Thai Spice and Khun Kay — go to extra lengths to make sure you're happy. Francisco is good at picking up on subtleties, wordlessly bringing tofu-filled spring rolls instead of the chicken-filled versions when you order a vegetarian lunch special or bringing an extra side of spicy sauce when he rightly determines from afar that the larb wasn't quite hot enough.
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Great review, must try them soon. I loathe niddha with a passion; and khun kay's only saving grace is their tom kah soup (shrimp) and cheap fried rice.