When I was a young girl, the only Asian food available when we got a hankering for something different was Chinese, usually a gloppy, greasy rendition of one of the world’s great cuisines. We didn’t know any better, and were happy to mop up sauces glistening with an over-exuberance of corn starch with heaps of steaming white rice while our extremities tingled from MSG overdoses. When Thai cuisine was introduced to North America, the culinary horizon got a lot more interesting.
There are several Thai restaurants in Boulder, but only 2 that stand out as worthy of a second visit. Buddha Cafe, in North Boulder at the corner of Iris and 28th, does a reasonably good job with their curries, stir fries and noodle dishes. The staff all speak English with a slight Indian accent, and if I had to make a guess, I would say they were not from Thailand. Still, they have managed to create a welcoming space in North Boulder — it is usually bustling with activity. From a few tables one can get a glimpse of the tiny kitchen, presided over by an even tinier woman churning out dishes, the woks hissing under the effort as the flames shoot up their sides. Particularly good dishes are the Jungle Curry and the Sawan Noodles, but skip the Pad Thai. Laden with sugar, it doesn’t have the depth of flavor I’ve come to expect.
Khow Thai, on Broadway just south of Arapahoe, is by far the more authentic Thai restaurant in Boulder. Even the decor, with its haphazard array of tables peppered with counter seating, makes me feel like I’m in Bangkok. The open kitchen gurgles and bellows a mixed bag of heavenly aromas, and, standing in line to order, the list of things I want to eat gets longer while I watch the cooks plate up. The Pad Thai is very good, if you can forgive the cooks for adding carrot into the mix. It is also served with the tray of condiments which are ‘de rigueur” in Thailand, so that each diner can season the dish to his or her taste. Adding a little burst of vinegar to brighten the dish, or maybe a little more chili is how a person takes ownership of a plate of Pad Thai. And the good ones ring with the tones of Tamarind, fish sauce and garlic. This one rises to the standard. Other dishes done very well here are the Larb — ground meat highly seasoned with chilis, lime and onion and served with cabbage leaves for wrapping, Prik Khing and the Masaman Curry. When I am dreaming of Thailand, this is where I like to come.