Edgewater, with a population of just over 5,200, may have the highest ratio of Thai restaurants per capita of any spot in Colorado. Fans of Thai cuisine in the metro area are already familiar with the vibrant flavors and tongue-melting heat of U.S. Thai, but newcomer Thailicious, open less than a year, adds another dose of pungent, bright and tropical warmth to the tiny town on the western shore of Sloan's Lake.
The cover of the menu at Thailicious is laid out like a newspaper; one headline announces "Thai Cuisine Is Charming and Passionate." The first impression of Thailicious certainly fits the charming part of that statement, with modern decor that nods to Thailand's cultural roots without ever seeming kitschy or old-fashioned. Loose-woven baskets of various sizes become dangling light fixtures, while straw hats line one wall, morphing into abstract art pieces. Even a display of plastic fruit and vegetables in plastic cubes adds lively color to a black wall rather than seeming cheap or artificial.
Low, comfortable love seats take the place of the standard, miserably upright banquettes found against many restaurant walls -- the kind that have your back in knots before the entrees even arrive. Other padded chairs, quaintly mismatched at random tables, invite guests to linger. Decorative water bottles, pressed-tin water cups, ceramic condiment caddies and flowers in chubby, recycled Lucky Buddha beer bottles all add to the homey impression -- somewhere between shabby chic and nonchalant, urban elegance.
I'm in luck, as the Saturday lunch special is pad Thai; for a dollar more than the regular menu price, it comes with a cup of soup and a curry puff. Given five choices for heat, I go with "Thai hot," the hottest on the list. The soup is a simple tom kha balancing coconut milk and lime over a tangle of just-cooked onion, while the curry puff has more in common with standard fried wonton appetizers than the more traditional flaky, layered pastry pocket I found at Suvipa Thai last week.
The pad Thai is glossy with chile oil, rust-colored and redolent of fish sauce and lime. Chopped peanuts and -- in a modern twist -- shards of fried wonton wrapper add crunch to the tender noodles. Shreds of toothsome pork (my choice; beef or chicken are also available for the same price) add just enough meaty texture amidst softer strands of scrambled egg. The heat level is warming, but certainly not approaching dangerous levels. But whatever your preference, that cute condiment caddy on the table has a remedy; seasoned fish sauce similar to Vietnamese nuoc mam, dried chile flakes, garlic-chile sauce, and even table sugar await with apothecary-sized ceramic spoons. Keep reading for more on Thailicious. In what is almost an embarrassment of precious touches, pandan tea comes served in an elephant-shaped teapot with cups barely bigger than thimbles, and Amy's "traffic light" curries -- red, yellow and green -- are served in a conjoined trio of cups, each with its own sprig of fresh herbs.
Thailicious strikes just the right balance of modern and traditional. The name and decor fit in with a trendy Denver dining scene, but the dishes are well-executed and classic, with just a few inventive riffs. Someone behind the scenes has an artist's eye; even the restaurant's logo -- a silhouette of temples, elephants, boats and dinnerware bristling from an imperfect sphere -- is a subtle play on a Mandelbrot set.
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Edgewater might not be Colorado's densest Thai-restaurant town after all; Poncha Springs -- population 791 -- has the Thai Mini Cafe. But here in Edgewater, competition is fierce and Thai restaurants have to differentiate themselves. The result is a far cry from the ascetic, bare-boned dining rooms of South Federal or the older expanses of Aurora, where budget and DIY ethic take precedence over aesthetics. Thailicious would fit right in among the hot new RiNo joints or Tennyson Street contenders, only once inside, everything just seems to say relax and stay a while, in strict defiance of modern hustle and flash.