Thai me up

On a spiritual quest for the perfect pad thai? A stop at Thai Chili wouldn’t be too far off track.

On a spiritual quest for the perfect pad thai? A stop at Thai Chili wouldn’t be too far off track.

Photo By Petter Kraemer

Just 10 years ago, there were only one or two Thai restaurants in Reno–now it seems there’s one for every neighborhood. This trend is fine by me since Thai is one of my favorites, though I would like to see an even wider diversity of international cuisines in Reno. (I am anxiously awaiting the day Ethiopian food will arrive.)

Thai food was one of the first cuisines I was ever truly passionate about. I first had pad thai when I was about 10 years old, and my mind was friggin’ blown. I talked about it incessantly for weeks, begging my Dad to take me back to the Thai restaurant, proclaiming Thailand “the single greatest food country in the world” and maintaining that irritating enthusiasm that only a self-important 10 year old can muster.

All through my adolescence, whenever we would go on family trips, I’d open up the phonebook and find a promising Thai restaurant to demand for dinner. I was on a spiritual quest for perfect pad thai. I can clearly remember great Thai restaurants in Portland, Ore., Seattle and even in New York City.

Nowadays, you don’t even have to leave town to have dinner in a different Thai place every night of the week. For old times’ sake, I tried to drag my family along, but the only member I could obtain was my sister, Brenna, who was using the opportunity to get my help on an English paper.

Our destination was Thai Chili, one of the newer local entrants in the Thai sweepstakes. It has a very convenient location—the next-nearest Thai restaurant is quite far by today’s standards, about six blocks away. Its windows look out onto the flashing “ADULT” sign of the Adult Theatre and Bookstore, and it is therefore no problem if you should need to pick up some prosthetic genitalia after dinner. It’s, as you’ve no doubt figured out, the former location of Indian favorite S.S. Super, which is now renamed A Taste of India and serving on Moana Lane.

Thai Chili is much nicer inside than was S.S. Super. It’s redecorated with lovely Thai masks and ornate wood reliefs and is comfortable and relaxed with friendly, unobtrusive service. Most importantly, though, Thai Chili passes the crucial “But How Good is the Pad Thai?” test.

The pad thai ($7.95) is very good. For the uninitiated, pad thai is a rice-noodle dish that combines peanuts, lime, egg, bean sprouts, shrimp, chili and a choice of meat or tofu. (I like chicken.) When it’s well-made, as at Thai Chili, it has a complex but perfectly harmonious flavor. It is also, as I discovered at an all-too-tender age, one of the most addictive dishes on the planet.

However, the pad thai wasn’t even the best dish we had at Thai Chili. That honor went to the tom yum goong ($8.95), a hot and sour soup with plentiful shrimp, straw mushrooms, lemongrass, cilantro, chili paste and lime juice. It’s served over an open flame and has an eye-widening aroma that only hints at the excellent taste.

I also had the jumbo tiger prawns with asparagus ($11.95). The prawns were big, fresh and delicious, and the dish overall was fairly good though not quite enough to make me let out a giant feline roar.

The only mild disappointment was Brenna’s bean thread noodle salad ($7.95). It wasn’t bad—just not worth ordering at a place with so many really top-notch options.

Overall, Thai Chili was a pleasant experience: a relaxed, pleasant environment, friendly service, a central location, decent prices, good food and a voluminous menu that entices return trips for further exploration. Just watch out for the wild-eyed pad thai fiends.