The Food and Wine Hedonist

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Chicago Eats – Andy’s Thai Kitchen

Sometimes it takes a change in scenery for you to see how good or bad you have it.  One of the first posts on this site dealt with how there’s a serious lack of good Thai restaurants in Ann Arbor. That was almost three years ago and I’m happy to report that the local Thai food scene still sucks.  Happy as in “I’m still a genius,” not “oh yay, there’s an awesome new joint we can hit up.”  

But it took a trip back home for me to remember just how bad Thai food is here.  

We were recently in Chicago for a few days and had dinner with my old college roommate Miguel. It’s been way too long since we’ve seen his family and figured meeting at their place would give us a great opportunity to catch up.  He and his wife know all the great places and I was more than confident in his suggestion of take-out from Andy’s Thai Kitchen.  It’s only been around since since Fall 2012, but it’s already garnered a lot of attention and critical praise for it’s bold authentic flavors.

It’s located in the Lakeview neighborhood, right by the Wellington train stop.  For those of you NOT from the city, this is a neighborhood north of the downtown area where a lot of post-college yuppies and young families live.  We’re not talking about some tourist destination or a “Main Street” where everybody goes for dinner.  I used to live right by that stop and this would’ve been one of the many places I would’ve grabbed a quick dinner at on the way home from work.   It’s like the reverse of  what I’m experiencing here in Ann Arbor – when I was living there, I didn’t realize how good I had it until I changed scenery and moved to the ‘burbs.

The food we had was SOOO good that, a couple days later, we went there for lunch before catching a show.  Bad Thai menus are often filled with bland, sometimes oversweetened basics and with an occasional sprinkling of spicy dishes.  Everything we had at ATK was bold and spicy – nothing wimpy.  But don’t confuse that with “heat,” which just about any fool with a bottle of Sriracha can achieve.  What’s not so easy is having that heat gradually build through a complex web of different taste sensations (hot, sour, salty, sweet, pungent, etc.).  That’s talent.

ATK’s menu itself is extensive, filled with many unfamiliar items – three different papaya salads, basil preserved eggs, pork meatloaf, and many different preparations of catfish and trout.   Our choices were a little more mainstream with a couple surprises mixed in.

ATK Sunshine beef

Sunshine beef – Thai beef jerky

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Garlic pork ribs

Garlic pork ribs

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Crispy onchoy – one of their specialties – tempura Chinese watercress, shrimp, chicken, mint, and onions served with a spicy chili paste sauce

Crispy onchoy – one of their specialties – tempura Chinese watercress, shrimp, chicken, mint, and onions served with a spicy chili paste sauce

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Beef Pad Ped

Beef Pad Ped – stir-fried peapods, beef, basil, pepper, eggplant, jalapeno with red curry sauce

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ATK Lad Nar

Lad Nar Seafood – stir fried assortment with garlic, chilies, mushrooms, and gravy over wide rice noodles

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Pad Thai

Pad Thai

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ATK Wild Boar pad ped

Wild Boar pad ped – wild boar, spicy red coconut curry, basil, Thai eggplant, and fresh peppercorns

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That last one was one of their daily specials. It was so rich and spicy with the boar tender and earthy.  I ordered it extra hot, so it was quite the sinus-opener.  It was also an eye-opener as I’d never before seen what fresh peppercorns look like –

Fresh peppercorns

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Our  favorite was the Crispy Onchoy, with it’s mix of temperatures, textures, and flavors.  We were pouring the remainder of that sauce over rice when the veggies ran out.  And when the rice ran out, we were literally licking the bowl.

And here’s the kicker – since it’s a neighborhood-type place, the prices were quite reasonable.  In that original post about Ann Arbor Thai food, I made it a point to include prices for Pad Thai as they are absolutely ridiculous.  There was one that came in at $8.50, but the others were over $11.  And they weren’t that good.  ATK’s Pad Thai is $8.50 with high quality ingredients unobscured by the sugary sauce I’ve had too often in Ann Arbor.

Sigh… If you hear about a Thai chef from Chicago getting kidnapped, it wasn’t me.  Maybe.

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Andy's Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

15 comments on “Chicago Eats – Andy’s Thai Kitchen

  1. a2sicilian
    March 19, 2014

    I also miss great Thai restaurants. San Francisco had a lot of them. I think they thrive well in big cities with a lot of young urbanites because they are spicy and relatively cheap, which breeds more of them, which breeds competition, which breeds better food. Ann Arbor is pretty suburbanite, when you get down to it, and there’s no chicken fingers and french fries for the kiddies.

    My biggest disappointment with local Thai restaurants is the lack of fresh herbs–cilantro, thai basil, mint–which is soooo critical to southeast Asian foods. I realize it’s an extra cost, but c’mon, herbs are ridiculously sparse in any Thai place I’ve eaten around here. And I agree, no build-up of heat and flavors.

    BTW, I had lunch with HB at that Chinese/Vietnamese place in the shopping center off Eisenhower and ordered the Vietnamese vermicelli with pork…it was SO bad. I can’t even tell you. Instead of fresh greens, there was a feeble handful of chopped iceberg lettuce. (Recall I wrote a post on great Vietnamese vermicelli :). HB got food poisoning the next day. Although we ate the same thing I still suspect it was from there. Never again.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      March 19, 2014

      There’s some merit with what you said about young urbanites – probably the best alternatives are Tomokun (not really Thai) and No Thai! and both are where the students are. What I’m disappointed in are the “foodie” locals. They think they’re so worldly because they support the Indian and Korean places but are overlooking Thai and Vietnamese. Add to that the big locavore push here which tends to favor bland farm-to-table because a lot of the bold, “exotic” ingredients aren’t from around here.

  2. ksbeth
    March 19, 2014

    this sounds great, and i’ve felt that the thai here is pretty middling at best. i think a2sicilian is right, the fresh herbs and strong flavor blends are lacking in a2.

  3. a2sicilian
    March 19, 2014

    I kid you not…I JUST got a groupon in my email inbox for Thai food in Ann Arbor. Big brother is watching…

  4. El Guapo
    March 19, 2014

    The inverse is also bad – going out in the world and realizing that spongy mass of bread with oversweetened tomato glop on it is what non new yorkers call pizza.
    And don’t get me started on Montreal bagels.
    Bleagh.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      March 19, 2014

      Really? Heard the bagels were good. Growing up jn Chicago I thought anything unstuffed and thinner than two inches was wimpy. I’ve grown to luv all kinds.

      • El Guapo
        March 19, 2014

        Montreal boils their bagels in honey-laced water.
        As a New Yorker, that’s just wrong.

        Tasty, just not as a bagel.

  5. Denise
    March 19, 2014

    Looks so good!

  6. applesandclovers
    March 20, 2014

    This sounds so delicious… I also miss all the amazing Thai restaurants around Chicago; I swear that Evanston itself had more than a dozen. Have you been to Thai-Thai in Ypsi? It’s probably my favorite local Thai place!

  7. the winegetter
    August 10, 2015

    OMG, what an amazing place. We can’t thank you enough for re-recommending it to us. Went there twice within 18 hours or so, both times seriously impressed with the quality of the food. I’d venture to say it’s some of the most authentic Thai food we’ve had outside of Thailand….and Nina kinda is an expert on this. I agree that the onchoy is out of this world good. The wild boar was a bit too chewy for my taste, but the sauce was killer. Another great dish was the Kao Soy. Really deep and satisfying broth, great crunchy noodles. Damn. Now I’m hungry again.

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This entry was posted on March 19, 2014 by in Ann Arbor, Dining, The Chi and tagged , , , , , , .
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