Dining Deals

$13 at Asia Market

Where: Asia Market, 1010 W Cavalcade St., 713-863-7074

What $13 gets you: Thai food should leave you full, refreshed and feeling like you got way more than you paid for. Thirteen bucks at Asia Market gets you clear sinuses and more than enough food for two.

Best served from tiny roll-carts and enjoyed from flimsy plastic tables along crowded, smoggy streets, in our opinion at least, Thai food never seems right at fancy restaurants. Thankfully, at Asia Market, the small, yellow tables and chairs (the color of the king) are crammed inside an unassuming, gas-station-size Thai grocery packed with everything from curry and fish pastes to coconut milk and crispy, MSG-laced strips of seaweed (those taste exactly how you think they would); at least 80 percent of the inventory is imported from the Land of Smiles. The day we visited, the thick summer humidity outside also helped to set the mood.

The menu has all the staples, with clear explanations in English just in case you don't talk Thai, and, if you remember something special from that blurry trip to Bangkok, they'll gladly try and make that too.

Spicy here is farang (foreigner) spicy, which means it'll give you a runny nose, but you can probably handle it. Just in case, there's a pitcher of ice water on the table in back, which is stocked with all the proper fixings, and forks and spoons.

We went with the Kang Massam, yellow curry with chicken (or beef, pork or shrimp), potatoes, onion, carrots and peanuts. It came in a big bowl that let us know we were dealing with professionals, along with a mound of white rice. It might seem silly to praise white rice, but, when done right -- fluffy and soft and firm all at once -- it gives a meal a noticeable boost.

The curry was thick enough not to soak through it, and the kick was a fistful of spicy followed by a bit of sweet solace. Every last detail seemed perfectly accounted for, right down to the slightly squishy, flavor-soaked peanuts. It was enough of an assault on the taste buds to have us feeling full not even halfway through the curry, which we ended up taking home (the place also does takeout).

For good measure, we'd also added a couple of ka ree puffs to our order. The crunchy, pastry-like balls were filled with a green chicken-and-potato curry that was impossibly sweet. It made for a nice finish, toeing the line between side dish and dessert.

Recommended? The cooks, like most everything else, come straight from Thailand. This is as good as it gets.

Bonus point: You can walk out with a Thai iced coffee, which should probably be illegal in the U.S. You'll have red eyes and chattering teeth by the time you get to the bottom.
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Mike Giglio
Contact: Mike Giglio