New spice for Sparks

Photo By David Robert

Rating: Nice Pad

In Sparks, there’s a Mexican restaurant around every other corner. I’m not complaining. The more places to get fine margaritas, the better, I say.

But diversity is good, too. And perhaps the third restaurant will be the charm for the digs east of Raley’s in the shopping center at Pyramid Way and McCarran Boulevard. This is a busy, happening corner in Sparks, and there’s no reason a restaurant shouldn’t do well and thrive. Still, Salsa Dave’s (featuring a variety of tequilas, a terrific salsa bar and Dave, an idiosyncratic but friendly bartender/burrito maker) went under. Then the Baja Grill (great, authentic fish tacos but some indecisive marketing) came and went.

Now, Isan Thai Restaurant is serving up curries and noodles at reasonable prices, and after a recent visit, I’m optimistic about its survival. My friend Jackie ate there and recommended it to me. Then I received an e-mail from RN&R reader Mitzi Watters, who raved over the food and service during a recent visit.

You don’t have to push too hard to get me to try Thai.

So off I went on a Friday afternoon with my friend and mentor Bruce Bledsoe. Bruce retired last year after spending a couple of decades doing journalism at the Reno Gazette-Journal. He’s full of great insights on nearly every subject—except where to dine at noon. Bruce says he was always too busy at the daily paper to acquire “much of a feel for lunch places.”

“I spent most of my life gobbling homemade sandwiches at my desk,” Bruce said.

Isan turns out to be as nice as the buzz would indicate. The décor hasn’t changed much since the Baja Grill days, except for a few Asian add-ons, such as lovely handwoven cloth under the glass on each table. Lunch specials are $6.95 and come with soup, steamed or fried rice, a Thai eggroll and one of about 10 entrees.

For an entrée, I chose the No. 1: Pad Thai. I figure that if a Thai restaurant can get its stir-fried noodles right, everything else should pretty much fall into place.

Isan does noodles wonderfully. Its Pad Thai is a lovely mass of thin, translucent rice stick noodles, green onions, veggies and pieces of chicken. Not too spicy. Not too greasy.

Bruce ordered the No. 3: Gra Tiem Pik Tai, a stir-fried meat (beef, chicken, pork or shrimp) with garlic and ground pepper. The peppery meat was tender and flavorful. Bruce liked it.

The competent and friendly server talked me out of ordering a grass jello drink ($1.50) after I asked what it was like.

“It has a taste that’s strange to your mouth,” he said. “You have to grow up drinking it.”

I opted for water. Bruce had a creamy, sweet Thai iced tea. A license to serve beer and wine is expected within a week or two, but for now, it’s dry Thai.

My favorite part of the meal was the Thai egg roll, a flaky, deep-fried egg roll filled with veggies and some spicy pork sausage. Manager Tom Chaval later told me that the egg rolls’ ingredients often vary beyond the usual cabbage, noodles and carrots. But if you don’t like the pork, they’ll cook up a veggie version.

By about 12:30 p.m., Isan was bustling with customers—not packed, but busy. Chaval said the word about Isan Thai is still getting out, but business over the past three months has definitely picked up.

In her e-mail, Watters noted that this is the third restaurant to “give it a go” at this location.

“I figured with your help, we could keep this one around!” she wrote.

I did my part. The rest is up to you.