leave your inhibitions at the door
Last week, I talked about Sava’s and Dominick’s – two good reasons why Ann Arbor Rocks. But A2’s not perfect. The food scene is pretty good in some ways, in others it downright sucks. It’s like dog ownership – they’re companions, exercise buddies, and may even save your life. But they also shed and crap on your floor. So get out the rolled-up newspaper, it’s time to teach this town a lesson…
A month or so ago, I got a call from The Architect notifying me that a favored Thai Restaurant – Bangkok Cuisine Express – is permanently closed. My immediate concern was for my summer diet plan. See I would occasionally go to this place and have a bowl of their tom yum soup. It wasn’t bad – nice tartness with good chili and ginger burn, but the ingredient quality (canned mushrooms) wasn’t great. Every time I had it, my stomach started percolating 38 minutes later. At the 47 minute mark, it was a mad sprint to the bathroom where I unloaded much more than I took in. (I think this is where the “Express” comes in) The plan was to do this on a daily basis and I’d be a good 10 pounds lighter in the first week. Oh well, I guess it’s on to plan B – eating nothing but figs, chex mix, Slim Jims, and apple juice. I really want to look like this…
Weight-loss program aside, Bangkok Cuisine Express was one of the better Thai places in Ann Arbor. The food tasted good and the portions were generous. But it was far from perfect. In addition to cheap, non-fresh ingredients, the prices were what I would consider way high. For example, at BCE’s remaining locations, a plate of pad thai noodles goes for $11. That’s nuts. You shouldn’t have to pay more than $7 unless it came with a cigar or a nudie mag. In Chicago, if you go to Penny’s Noodle Shop or Noodles in the Pot (which I strongly recommend you do) you’ll pay far less. Per their websites, Penny’s has it for $6.95 and NIP has it for $8.50. These are far more flavorful and use fresh ingredients. Even better, both places have table service, real plates, silverware, and alcohol. Not to sound like a lush, but a off-dry Gewurztraminer or a cold beer goes great with spicy Thai food.
(High prices aren’t limited to Thai. It’s going to be a recurring theme in this blog that we pay WAAYYYYY too much for food here in A2. I’d say we’re paying big city prices but, based on what I’ve seen in Chicago, I think we’re paying more. My theory – lack of cheap Latino workforce and high property taxes.)
Even before BCE’s demise, the Thai scene here in A2 sucked. There are only five Thai-only places left here. Yet, we have 8949 Korean and Indian places. I get it – there are a lot of Koreans and Indians here because of the University and the number of restaurants are proportional to their populations. But I always thought that Thai was pretty close to mainstream. Not quite as popular as Chinese or Japanese, but definitely more so than other Asian cuisines. Maybe we could make a case for the U to admit more Thais.
Here are my thoughts on what’s left so you can decide if you agree with me that A2 sucks for Thai. (Whoa, that didn’t come our right). To give an indication on relative pricing, I’ve included how much Pad Thai with chicken costs at each. And even though I’m not very kind to them, don’t forget to mention this blog when you go there. Again, you won’t get shit but, if enough of you say it, I might.
– Lotus Thai/Marnee Thai – Nice and clean looking place – striving for a white tablecloth look. Food was tasty with fresh ingredients, but portions were small, almost tapas-sized. Unbelievably, this is the only Thai place in town that serves alcohol. I know liquor licenses are expensive and hard to come by, but c’mon… Pad Thai – $12
– Tuptim – I can’t stop laughing when I pull up to this place. It’s housed in a former Long John Silver’s and it still looks like one. They had a banner draped over the old LJS sign and I think they only just recently replaced it with a permanent sign. Inside is pretty nice so it’s clear they are also trying for a higher-end vibe. Nice presentations on the food, but taste is so-so. Pad Thai – $10.60
– Old Siam – Boom Boom and I went there for lunch one time and both of us came out of it wondering how do shitholes like this stay in business? The only redeeming quality to this place is that it’s keeping one Thai family legally employed. Poor ingredients, zero flavor, and small portions. We were completely starving afterwards. What else? Slow service. Pad Thai – $11.95!
– Siam Square – This is a hotel lobby restaurant – fine if it’s the Westin or Ritz, but this is the Victory Inn. I’ve never stayed there, but it looks like a total sleazy no-tell motel. I remember the restaurant seeming authentic, but that was more on the décor. The food didn’t stand out. Pad Thai = $11.44
– No Thai! – They cater to the students so no table service – more of a fast food feel. I guess that’s fine, because that’s the only way I’m going to get Thai food without paying through the nose. The downside to being located near students is that parking’s a beyotch. Somewhat small menu, but most of the heavy-hitters are on it – pad thai, pad prik, curries. When placing an order, you choose your protein and then level of heat for your dish. I usually hate this type of ordering, but it’s a nice touch with the five levels of heat. I recall getting the red curry made with the hottest possible sauce and my ass burning for days. Thumbs up to that! Ingredients were ok, flavor good, and quantity was about right. Pad Thai = $8.50
I guess the best place left in A2 is No Thai for combination flavor and value. Prices are decent, but it’s fast food. Lotus Thai would come in second, only because they serve beer and wine. Their small portions do mean you will need to order more overpriced food.