Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas

Although I have been going to Las Vegas since I was (no exaggeration) 9 years old, I have NEVER eaten a meal off the strip. 
I know, I know….I am a tourist in every sense of the word. 
But this trip, thanks urging from a friend, I made myself go to what some call the greatest Thai restaurant in America:
 Lotus of Siam. You will need a cab to get to the strip mall location, filled with other Asian stores and restaurants. You will think, from the surrounding area, that you might be shot while eating there.
You won’t…probably.
The first thing that hit me was the amount of accolades this place has gotten…it even won a 2010 James Beard Foundation Award calling Saipin Chutima the best chef in the Southwest!
It is a huge restaurant, and extremely casual. Jeans and flip flops are welcome. 
And, be aware…the menu is extensive and confusing. We mostly went with Lotus of Siam specialties and Northern Thai food, since it is hard to find that stuff other places. We did try a few old favorites…
 Pork SATAY with Peanut Sauce and Cucumber Salad. This was the first sign that this meal might be a little out of the ordinary. This satay was juicy, heavily seasoned strips of sweet pork, tangy and flavorful with fresh cucumbers and rich peanut sauce. This was a perfectly balanced dish – salty, spicy, bitter with the char marks and sweet with the rice wine vinegar in the cucumbers. This whet my appetite and actually made me hungrier while I ate it…is that even possible?
 MEE KROB-Crispy noodle mixed with sweet and sour sauce,chicken and shrimp. This can best be described as the savory Thai version of Cracker Jacks. Crispy, sweet, sticky, filled with sweet and tender shrimp, juicy marinated chicken, and shards of bright green onion and fresh bean sprouts. Is this authentic? Who knows? But it was as good a version as I have EVER had. This isn’t spicy at all, so it’s a great choice for those of you who are wimps.
 STUFFED CHICKEN WINGS-Chicken wings stuffed with ground pork, deep fried, served with homemade sweet & sour sauce. Also known as Angel Wings, these are one of my favorite Thai dishes and VERY hard to find, because they are so labor intensive. There is a layer of pork and noodles rolled inside the boned chicken leg before it is fried to juicy, crispy perfection. 
It’s like the original Turducken.
 This was unbelievable. The chicken was so juicy, the pork so sweet and the breading impossibly crunchy. The spices inside were complicated, but I know there was some ginger in there, providing a sharp accent to the sweet sauce served alongside. If you like fried chicken, you HAVE to get this.
 Northern Larb – Ground Pork, Northern Thai Spices, Fresh Herbs and Vegetables. I have professed my love of Larb before, but this is unlike any I have ever had. It was not tangy or acidic, nor did it have the peculiar but wonderful tezture of ground rice powder. This was like ground up BBQ-and that is a compliment. The pork was deeply flavorful, and richer than most pork. It tasted as if it had been pit BBQ’d for hours or even days, bringing out earthy and meaty flavors. The spices in it made it zesty, umami-filled and even pleasantly bitter. Eating it with the crunchy cabbage and slightly floral basil made the flavors well rounded and a different taste sensation than anything I have ever eaten. 
 ISSAN SAUSAGE-Grilled sour pork sausage, served with fresh chili, ginger and peanuts.
This was the standout of the meal. Everyone in my party agreed on that – which, in itself, is a major miracle. The sausage was filled with thick chunks of pork, and had this tangy, acidic flavor that made the meat seem light as vegetables. It had a snappy, crunchy casing and the bits of soft rice within the sausage contrasted pleasantly with the tender pork. Eating a bite with some of the chiles on the side gave a whole new taste to it – now it was even more citrusy, deep, and bright, all at once. I ate more than my fair share, and could have eaten even more.  This was the most revelatory meat product I have eaten in I don’t know how long. 
That’s what she said.
KHAO SOI BRAISED SHORT RIB- The Northern Thai egg noodle is served in curry sauce, coconut cream and braised short rib, garnished with sliced red onion, lime and pickled vegetables. This was my second favorite of the night. I have never had something like this before – almost candy sweet in taste, the texture of the velvety sauce mimicked that of the short rib, which was braised into melting submission. The beef tasted like it had some aromatics like star anise and maybe cinnamon it it, and the cut itself had an irony, almost offal-y taste to it. It was a deeply meaty cut, which provided a backbone to the fragrant coconut, tangy lime and bite of the red onion. The noodles were springy, soft but not mushy and absorbed all the flavor of the sauce perfectly. The fried noodles on top provided crunch, and this was a perfect end to a perfect meal.

No, really…a PPERFECT meal. You might notice that I didn’t talk too much about heat here, and that’s because we asked for most of the meal to be mild. My dining partners were all wimps. But, our server noted that we could make the dishes much, MUCH hotter…and noting from the people around me crying and wiping their noses, he wasn’t kidding. There is a Lotus of Siam in NYC now,and thought hte acclaimed chef isn’t in the kitchen, I just might have to check it out. Because for the price, the relaxed atmosphere, and definitely the food…it would be worth it. 
And it’s worth it to say that I have now eaten a world class meal off the strip. 
Tourist, no more.
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