Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

Having read several rave reviews about Lotus of Siam (including one from the FT Weekend food columnist, Nicholas Lander), I was eager to find out what the hype was all about. This small Thai restaurant off the strip has been here for more than a decade but it was only in 2000 when chef Saipin Chutima took over this place and put it on the map as the best Thai food in the U.S.

The small restaurant is located in an unattractive strip mall off a large boulevard in a not too nice area of Las Vegas yet it has become one of the most famous Thai restaurants in America. Walls are lined with photographs of celebrity guests posing with Chef Saipin including famous chefs like Joel Robuchon and Mario Batali.

Interiors are simple – wooden tables with paper place mats and simple white crockery and flatware and interiors a mish-mash of industrial carpeting with plants and all sorts of things posing as decoration but don’t let the atmosphere fool you. Everyone is here to eat and hardly notice the decor as soon as the food arrives. Large glasses of iced water are given with the many-page menu of Thai specialties with two whole pages devoted to Northern Thai cuisine which is characterized by less spicy and more sweet dishes. For dinner that evening, we were a large group of six adults and three children. My sister and brother in-law had invited their good Thai friends (who used to own Royal Thai on Sahara) to help us choose the best dishes from the varied menu. Her mom went ahead and ordered all the food and we prepared ourselves for a special selection of both classic and Northern Thai dishes.

Appetizers were skipped and we started with a soup – Bangkok style TOM KAH KAI which is a sour-sweet soup made with coconut milk, chicken, straw mushrooms and flavoured with galangal, lemon grass and lime. It was sweet-sour-salty and spicy all at the same time and served in a hotpot which kept the flavours hot.

This was followed by four Northern Thai dishes: LARB – ground pork cooked with Thai spices instead of the Southern-version which comes with chopped onion, green chili and lime juice, THUM-KA-NOON, another dish from the north of shredded young jack fruit, ground pork, tomato and Northern Thai spices. There was also SAI OUA, a Northern-style sausage of ground pork with both fresh and dried herbs and spices and a spicy pork stew curry – KANG HUNG LAY. The larb was different, less sour than what I’m used to and spicier. The jack fruit salad was quite spicy and so was the sausage – both were quite different from the usual Thai food found in most restaurants. The pork curry was a discovery, very similar to beef Rendang and more Malay/Indian in flavour because of the dried spices used to make the gravy.

A few more main courses were served – grilled salmon in red curry with Thai basil, two noodle dishes: the popular favourite PAD THAI with shrimp and another that none of us non-Thais had tried before, PAD WOONSEN – silver noodles (similar to vermicelli) sautéed with tomato, black mushroom, egg and onions. Both were excellent, the Pad Thai was excellent with fresh prawns, thin rice noodles and that sweet, tangy, sour taste given some texture by the crushed peanuts while the glass noodles were delicious with the vegetables and eggs tossed together.

We had one vegetable dish to round off our all-protein meal, the KANA MOO KROB – stir-fried Chinese broccoli and crispy pork belly in oyster sauce which managed to be an amazing combination of crunchy only slightly cooked greens and deep-fried crispy pork. All this was accompanied by a big bowl of steamed fragrant Thai jasmine rice.

We amazingly managed to polish off most of the food and even had space to order a mini dessert selection of fried banana rolls, sticky rice and coconut ice cream (three of the four desserts listed on the menu. As we were about to finish our meal, more people were walking in and standing near the entrance waiting for tables. To prove that this restaurant is indeed popular with both out-of-towners and locals, Las Vegas’s mayor Oscar Goodman was being seated at a nearby table as we were paying the bill. I’m considering going back for lunch so I can try some more new and one-of-a-kind dishes from the menu. Did Lotus of Siam live up to its’ reputation? Yes, it did and if Chef Saipin stays in the kitchen then reservations will only be harder to make.
Lotus of Siam
953 E. Sahara Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89104 (3/4 East of Sahara Hotel)
Tel. +1 702 735 3033
* Open daily for dinner – reservations are highly recommended for dinner.
* Buffet and a la carte lunch served Mondays to Fridays – no reservations taken for lunch.

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