Cafe Society

The Panang curry is a hot item at U.S. Thai

Of the three dozen or so Thai restaurants scattered around the metro area, I can think of only one that rises to the curry occasion as triumphantly as Thai Flavor, and that's U.S. Thai Cafe in Edgewater.

Ma Vue, a Laotian, opened the eatery in 2006, with native Thai chef Aung Kyaw in the kitchen. The place is modest — a pair of sherbet-colored dining rooms divided by a hallway that holds the kitchen — and has no liquor license, but U.S. Thai quickly found ardent fans, including my predecessor, Jason Sheehan. And I joined their ranks after my first bite of the Thai curry.

When a craving for Panang curry hit one recent afternoon, I returned to U.S. Thai, taking a kitchen-facing table alongside some lingering lunchers. The kitchen was a flurry of activity and the servers worked just as briskly, filling water glasses, taking orders and turning tables. My meal appeared within five minutes: an au gratin dish of carrot florets, pea pods, chunks of green and yellow peppers, and flat, tough strips of beef — the exact gristly cut that's so inexplicably popular in Asia — swimming in curry, with a dainty side dish of rice. The curry was thinner, both less savory and less sweet than the version at Thai Flavor, but more punched up with the smack of chiles — and it had all the mouthwatering complexity lent by lemongrass, garlic, lime and galangal used in good proportion. I'd ordered it medium, but it was hot enough to make me sniffle.

U.S. Thai might want to consider instituting some sort of eating challenge for its "Thai Hot" rendition — I seriously doubt that anyone who wasn't raised in Thailand could stomach it. But I'm willing to give it a try, if it means I get another taste of Thai curry.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk