This past summer, we took a quick trip to Las Vegas. Why would we want to go out to the desert with its 100 plus temps? Was it the gambling, the shops, being poolside? Nope, it was none of those; it was for the food! Las Vegas is deliberately building up its reputation as one of the world’s great restaurant cities. With big name chef firepower like Thomas Keller, Bobby Flay, Joel Robuchon, Daniel Boulud, and many more – food fans have been flocking to Vegas in droves. But amongst these bright shining stars, one restaurant is standing amongst them but with much less celebrity. Their status is earned for the best of reasons; its food. The place is in a strip mall and it is awesome. I discovered something a lot of other people know; Lotus of Siam is a restaurant to visit, and visit again.
When I was planning on visiting Las Vegas, I wanted to keep the process rather organic. Mostly ask friends and visit restaurants suggested by word of mouth. With a place like Las Vegas, I knew that there would be a ton of outlets to tout restaurants. I didn’t want to get caught up in the noise, so I figured asking around would cut through the fat. Thank you Twitter. With one quick Tweet, I was on my way to Lotus of Siam. I received a bunch of messages to visit Lotus of Siam. I also asked other food friends whose insight I respected; their response was to go to Lotus of Siam. From executive chefs, to food writers, to Vegas aficionados, they all mentioned the place. And my friend, The GastroGnome, said that amongst all the restaurants in Vegas, go to Lotus of Siam. Okay then, Lotus of Siam it is.
Here are my three cool things about Lotus of Siam:
- The decor (or lack thereof)
Lotus of Siam is the culinary child of Saipin Chutima, for it is her restaurant where she brought over her northern Thailand menu. Her Lotus of Siam is out in the middle of a strip mall on the east side of The Strip. When we pulled up to the place, we wondered; is this it? It looks like any other forgettable restaurant that is in a strip mall, the type of place that you would easily ignore. But we stepped in and were greeted with a ton of people in the waiting room. The waiting room also held all sorts of the accolades that Lotus of Siam had received. And they are many. Much of the blog world likes to bring up that Gourmet magazine’s Jonathan Gold called ‘Lotus of Siam the ‘best Thai restaurant in North America’ (although I couldn’t find any article with this reference.) As you get into the restaurant, you’ll notice that it’s look is very unassuming. Rows of tables, its look no different than other neighborhood Thai place. But look up at the walls and you’ll see pictures of celebrities with Saipin and the team. It has been said that you can gauge a resto on the celebrities in the pictures. If that’s the case, then Lotus of Siam is off the charts unbelievable.
- The food
Ah, the food. This is why we go to restaurants. The ability to amaze, surprise, and transport us through a culinary adventure. In the case of Lotus of Siam, they took us through northern Thailand. Granted, I’ve never been to northern Thailand, but after my dinner, I’d imagine it would be a delicious trip. The menu at Lotus of Siam is different than most Thai places I’ve been to. After visiting a fair share, they start to homogenize; phad thai, phad see iew, various interpretations of the same thing. Catered to the American palate and many dishes come off too sweet. But at Lotus of Siam, their menu was different and intriguing.
When we ordered we conferred with our server. Utilizing his perspective to try some stuff of interest and representative of their style. He steered us properly. We started with the Nam Kao Tod; a deeply flavorful dish of crispy rice, herbs, chiles, and bitter sausage. This was a perfect way to start our dinner; it fired up our tastebuds to make us want more.
Our next two were items were courtesy of our server’s opinion. One was the Kra Phao Moo Krob, a dish of roasted and crispy side pork that is rich in flavor. The other was the Khao Soi, a yellow curry with beef that was also full of flavor. Flavor. This would be my chief takeaway from Lotus of Siam’s dishes. Flavor unlike other Thai places I’ve been to. Flavor that lasts long after the bite is over. Flavor that is much lauded and now I understand.
- It’s a non-Vegas restaurant
What I loved about Lotus of Siam is that it is an anti-Vegas restaurant. What I mean is that it’s unassuming, it lets its food stand out for itself, not the decor or the design. We went to a bunch of restaurants throughout the weekend. All were good, all were beautifully decorated, but none had food better than what we can get in Seattle. While we enjoyed our visits, they didn’t resonate. But not with Lotus of Siam. Their food stood out on its own. It didn’t try to be too clever. Lotus of Siam is a Thai restaurant that invites you into their dining room and lets their kitchen do their thing, something I wish more Vegas restaurants would try.
I know that it’s tough to gauge a restaurant on one visit, but based off of the enjoyment that so many people had for it, the reviews, and my experience, I loved my dinner at Lotus of Siam and will gladly go on future Vegas trips. Hopefully then we’ll have more people in our party so that we can try out more stuff! But until then, add me to the list of people who says that Lotus of Siam is a must visit.