Discovering Thai by Thai’s Secret Menu

When we think of Thai food, our minds generally conjure images of Pad Thai (which for the sake of being in a Thai restaurant, I did end up sampling), or Panang Curry, to name a few commercialized items. What co-founders Eed and Matt Landon have done with their Thai by Thai chain is create traditional Thai dishes in a “casual, quick service” format.

To celebrate the opening of their fourth Thai by Thai, I sampled nine dishes that were listed on the not so “Secret Street Menu” consisting of an appetizer, several noodle soups, and rice-based dishes; off-menu were per-request items such as their hugely popular Kai Rabert or the Exploding Egg Dish known in the vernacular, and their “Classic Menu” items including Pad Thai, Drunken Noodles, Fried Pork Ribs (which were amazeee!), and a very sweet & milky Thai Tea to wash it all down–absolute must-have. The Secret Menu is a list of foods patrons would request at the register for items they heard (on the down-low) the restaurant was known to service.

Eed explained the dishes that comprise the Secret Menu are recognized among Thai people as comfort food, the kind of staples you would find among street vendors–this is the kind of information I found particularly exciting because I have a trip to Bangkok coming up, so I was  a very willing and studious participant. One notable departure in the way Thai food is produced state-side versus the homeland is in the use of peanuts: Americans love their peanuts…According to Eed, typical Thai fare doesn’t incorporate peanuts to the extent that we do here in the US of A, or they at least use it on a smaller scale rather than as a focal point.

Now, to the highlights:

Kao Tod Nam Sod

Believe it or not, this was an appetizer…Like many of the dishes on the menu, I couldn’t pronounce the name, but I could convey happiness and delight. The dish was a combination of so many contrasting textures and flavors. The fried rice balls, crunchy on the outside and malleable on the inside, helped to even out the combination of the pickled pork and  Thai sausage, which has a definitive kick.

Crispy pork, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce
Kana Mookrob. Crispy pork, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce.

If you like pork belly, this is your thing, and it certainly was mine. The pork belly was a nice change of pace from the varied soup and rice dishes, as the crispness of the salted fatty pork was complemented by the flavorful Chinese broccoli sauteed in oyster sauce.

Minced shrimp Thai omelet and fried garlic with Siracha sauce over rice
Kao Kai Jeaw Goong Sub. Minced shrimp Thai omelet and fried garlic with Siracha sauce over rice.

Being allergic to shellfish and all has its downsides. Fortunately, my guest placed this dish in her Top 3 of the 15 dishes tried that night. The comforting fluff of the omelet  holding the shrimp, garlic, and barely noticeable siracha induced nothing but a simple YUM. I’m interpreting this as a THUMBS-Up!

Minced chicken, shrimp, bell peppers, Thai basil, and green bean
Kaprow Thai. Minced chicken, shrimp, bell peppers, Thai basil, and green bean.

Again, shellfish allergies were, on a scale of 1-10, ranked 3 for the night for being  a hindrance. Thankfully, I was able to side-step my allergy problem and sample the chicken and veggies. This dish was very easy on the taste buds, no hugely contrasting flavors. A simple stir-fry concoction made with greens of the run-of-the-mill variety.

Tender pork, pork meatballs, Chinese broccoli, bean sprouts and celery in pork cinnamon soup
Moo Toon. Tender pork, pork meatballs, Chinese broccoli, bean sprouts and celery in pork cinnamon soup.

For the bulk of the night, soups we’re a constant. There was the Spicy Beef Soup (beef flank, meatballs,celery, bean sprouts, beef broth), Doo Dee Ma Nao (fish balls, chicken, and lime broth), and Tom Yum Ka Moo (pork leg & mushrooms, and lemongrass broth), in addition to the Moo Toon pictured above. Admittedly, while it became difficult to distinguish one flavor from the other as they all maintained a sweet & sour theme and a base consistent in all their soups for the most part, the Moo Toon, was probably my favorite as it had a similar structure to the Kana Mookrob, but soup-style. ***I would highly recommend using their house-made chili sauce, which helped add some kick to what would be otherwise lackluster broths.

Fried eggs, minced chicken, spicy red sauce, rice...What they're known for people!
Kai Rabert. Fried eggs, minced chicken, spicy red sauce, rice…What they’re known for people!

This was a true delight for the senses. The Kai Rabert (silent-T) lived up to expectations– a popular dish with customers, and with yours truly, runny yolk is combined with the minced chicken which is similar in texture to ground beef, and set over rice. The yolk unifies and lends a thick coating to the entire meal.

From the Classic Menu...A fan favorite
Pad Thai. Rice noodles, eggs, tofu, bean sprouts, scallions, crushed peanuts, and tamarind sauce.

Last, but not least, how could you go wrong with Pad Thai. While the Secret Menu foods were an interesting avenue for exploration, the Pad Thai was very well-done, and one of the tops of the nights…but that could be because of all the peanuts.

While the Secret Menu items are billed to be for the more adventurous, I found all the dishes sampled to be easily palatable and not a huge departure from their Classic menu. ENJOY!

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