You know how when you move to a new neighborhood, you have to do all kinds of things "all over again, for the first time"? Like finding the closest store for grabbing a gallon of milk, or signing up at a new gym, and -- most important of all -- finding new neighborhood restaurants and bars?
Having recently moved out to the wilds of Oak Forest, we are on the prowl for "new favorites." We'd been to Plonk and a few other spots with friends over the years, so we turned to those same friends to ask about food. Specifically, we wanted "easy-to-eat-for-days-while-you-unpack-your-whole-life" take-out food. When they pointed us to Vieng Thai, I winced. "We haven't had really good luck with Thai in Houston. How about Chinese?" Our friends promised us the food was excellent, and warned us that the curries were pretty hot.
I love that Vieng Thai doesn't have a Web site, just a menu randomly hosted on the Internet. Points for being straightforward. We were in for a long day of unpacking, reorganizing and redecorating, so we went crazy, ordering two appetizers (chicken satay, fried tofu) and three entrées for our late lunch/early dinner unpacking party. Vegetarian pad Thai with eggs was a must, and we're both crazy for Panang, choosing pork this time, because, why not? Finally, we liked the look of the Plaa Sam Rod, a deep-fried whole tilapia smothered in "three flavored sauce" that sounded a lot like an old favorite from our go-to Thai place in Fairbanks, Pla Rad Prik. Anyway, deep-fried whole fish available for take-out? I'll take one, no matter what.
As soon as I got to the restaurant, the woman at the counter apologized, and let me know they were out of chicken satay. I asked for a quick substitution, and she suggested the crispy Thai spring rolls, which was an easy decision, since little fried things are almost always good (even when they are bad).
The conversation around Houston's Thai food is always such an interesting one; just the other day the comments section lit up when Kaitlin Steinberg added a Nit Noi dish to her "100 Favorite Dishes" list. The general consensus seems to be that there are very few excellent, or even good, "authentic" Thai places in Houston (and that Nit Noi is not on that list), but it's not a category where we are currently showing our strongest food. Speaking of the food...
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SHOW ME HOW
...it's good. It's really, really good. Better than any Thai we've had since moving to Houston, in 2010, which is exciting for us. I was happy as a clam with the crispy spring rolls, and double-dipped my way through the entire container of sweet-and-spicy chile sauce that came on the side. The fried tofu wasn't my thing -- I prefer agedashi tofu to the dry, fried triangles Vieng Thai offers -- but my husband loved it, and ate what I didn't finish. Okay, so maybe not every little fried thing is good, even when it's bad.
We saw continued success with our entrées, and the panang in particular was a favorite. While the sauce was thin, it still clung to the tender pieces of lean pork that marinated in the spicy curry, which was shot through with lemongrass, garlic, chile and coriander; next time we'll order it spicier, and with beef, but the broth was pretty luscious overall.
Similarly, the pad Thai was also well-balanced -- a comforting mix of noodles, veggies and tofu (less dry when mixed in with the pad Thai dish than on its own as an appetizer), with a generous heap of crushed peanuts throughout. I loved the crinkle-cut carrots, which soaked up all the flavor of the spices -- I ate these like little spicy-sweet carrot chips, alternating with bites of fried tofu, after I finished my noodles. The fried fish was more popular with my husband than with me, but I think a whole fried fish that is supposed to be smothered in a special "3 sauce blend" is probably better suited to eating in-house, rather than as take-out, so I have to reserve my final verdict on that dish until I have a chance to eat in-house.
At some point post-meal, I decided to Google "Vieng Thai" to see what I've been missing, and apparently this is a not-so-secret Houston favorite and ranks among the top Thai places with food writers and online reviewers alike. I found the harmony between the food writers and the commenters disturbing, and immediately took shelter in the comfort of our own combative EOW comments board. Don't let me down, people -- tell me how dumb I am for having passed over Vieng Thai for so long.