Sunday, March 3, 2013

Guide to Thai-riffic Thai in Austin

My second post for the 2013 Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide is on Thai food. Thai food is one of my favorite genres of food, and I've long lamented the relative scarcity of outstanding Thai here in Austin. But a few spots stand out as being consistent winners in my book. Read on to find out which Thai restaurants have most curried my f(l)avor.

I had every intention of getting a full blog post on Sway up before now. I'm pretty sure it's the restaurant I've frequented most since its opening in December of last year (though Ă‰picerie is close behind). I've long been a big fan of executive chef Rene Ortiz and pastry chef Laura Sawicki, the dynamic duo behind La Condesa, though I'll admit I was a little skeptical when I heard they were opening a Thai restaurant, too. Could they really be as good at Thai food as they are at Mexican?

Yes. Yes, they can.

What I love most about Sway is that their dishes are full of flavor, but still taste clean and fresh. Most everything is made from scratch, including their deeply wonderful nam prik pao. My favorite dishes at Sway include the son-in-law, the jungle curry, the tiger cry, the kai yaang, and the salt & pepper tofu. For dessert, the Thai tea affogato or the jasmine tea panna cotta. I still aspire to writing a full-length blog post about this fabulous place, so I'll reserve the long-winded dish descriptions for that day, but here are a couple of photos to whet your appe-Thai-te.

The Son-In-Law - braised pork shoulder, crispy farm egg, thick soy, chili vinegar

Jasmine Tea Panna Cotta - served with coconut-lychee sorbet, red grape, lychee, palm sugar, Thai basil, shiso, and crunchy amaranth

This sweet restaurant and coffee bar on West Mary is a favorite of mine for many reasons. I love that they source locally and use humanely-raised meats. I love that the owner, Jam Sanitchat, teaches cooking classes at their store, passing on her passion for cooking and her secrets about her favorite Thai ingredients. And most of all, I love the food. Fresh Thai flavor abounds in every dish (in case you haven't been since they changed things up here, they now cook everything to order - no more reheating out of the cold case!). And you can cool things down afterwards with a scoop of their housemade vegan ice cream. The ice cream flavors are marvelous (everything from mint chip to ginger lemongrass), and you won't for a second miss the dairy.

Spicy Basil Fried Rice

Madam Mam's / Sap's
I'm sure the owners of these two establishments prefer not to be linked to one another anymore (the competing restaurants are the product of the couple's split - she got the two locations that are still Madam Mam's; he turned the south location into Sap's). But it's hard not to link them when they still share a common menu. I'm hard pressed to order anything here other than the Pad Kee Mao (F5)(note that you have to ask for rice noodles or you'll get a version made with spaghetti noodles) or what is basically the rice version of the same dish, Pad Ped Ga-Prao (P8). For an appetizer, I love the Thai rice cakes (Kao Tung / A3).

Pad Kee Mao - wide rice noodles stir-fried with your choice of protein (I always get pork), mushrooms, Thai basil, and Thai peppers

Few people I've told about this strip mall Thai joint wayyyyyyyyy up north near Lakeline Mall have heard of it. Yet, it's one of my favorite Thai places in town, and worth the trip. My very favorite dish here is the Chu Chee (SP4), a fried catfish fillet topped with the most amazing red curry sauce. We usually order the sauce on the side so the fillet stays crispy longer. Also, word to the wise: they are not afraid of heat, here, so we usually request our dishes mild so that the less-heat-loving folks in our group can still eat the food. But if you like it hot, they'll be happy to oblige.

I'll be brutally honest - the service here is frequently overwhelmed and, therefore, often not particularly attentive. The space is nothing fancy. But I've liked all the food I've eaten here, and particularly that fantastic catfish dish.

O' happy red curry day - Chu Chee (fried catfish fillet served with coconut red curry sauce and lime leaves)

What are your favorite Thai places in town? I'm Thai-ing to know - please share in the comments!


  1. Thai-riffic post!! :) I went to Sway solely based on how many times you went & loved it as well. Sadly, I went to Madam Mam's recently and had horrible service, so probably won't be back.

    1. So sorry to hear that, Julie. Terrible service can really ruin what would otherwise be a good dining experience. At which MM's did that happen?

      Glad you loved Sway! So thrilled that they're here for us to enjoy!

  2. I am glad to hear how much you like Thai Fresh; I've only been once since they started making everything to order, and I was impressed. Now I am encouraged to go back! Hey Julie, I love Sap's on Westgate.... well I should say I feel like I know what some of the better dishes are, and I've never had a problem with the service there.

    1. The switch to made-to-order at Thai Fresh was KEY! Just wish they were a little closer to my house or I'd be there all the time.

  3. Have you been to Spin near Lakeline Mall? I've been a few times and while the service is pretty non-existant, the food is freakin' amazing. The atmosphere is nothing to write home about, but damn, the food!

    1. I have been to Spin a couple of times and was not in love with it. Do you have favorite dishes there that I should try next time? I trust your food judgment immensely!

  4. I've been meaning to tell you that we have the same two favorites at Madam Mam's. We are a food match made in thai-ven.

    1. Linda, not only are we food-sistahs, we also share a sense of humor! I adore the fact that you are never tongue Thai-d when it comes to a good pun or nerdy joke! ;-)

    2. I haven't tried the food at Thai Fresh since they get rid of the cold case deal although I have really been enjoying the baked goods at Thrice! I also love the Tom Kha soup at Little Thai Food, a cart of South first. I think it's the best Thai trailer in town.

    3. Lazysmurf, I need to head back to Little Thai Food - I've been a couple of times, but it's been quite a while, and I've not tried their Tom Kha. Thanks for the tip!

  5. Nice list. Have you been to any of the Thai food trailers? I keep seeing a few of them around and wondering but haven't tested them out yet.

    1. Hey there, thanks so much for stopping by! I've been to Little Thai Food on S. First, but it's been a while. I liked it, but wasn't blown away. I know there are a couple new ones that I need to track down!

  6. Do you have any favorite spots north central (around China Town?) I've been loving exploring the different cuisine around there, but Thai is definitely lacking. Would love your tips :)

    1. Hi Lindsay! Do you mean Chinatown the restaurant on Greystone, or Chinatown shopping center?


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