Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011 | 5:17 p.m.
Thai restaurants in America too often come in a one-size-fits-all box. One Panang curry or pad prik king can taste pretty much like any other, most curries come from the same cans, and if you’ve had one larb, you’ve had them all. Most Thai restaurateurs don’t deviate from these formulas—in fact, they depend on them—because they know it is this familiarity that helps capture customers who crave the sweet/savory/spicy trifecta of flavors for which this cuisine is famous.
So generic is Thai food in Las Vegas (with the notable exception of Lotus of Siam) that when a new restaurant popped up a year ago on West Sahara, boasting a large, white on blue sign advertising a specific type of Thai food, aficionados took notice. And within a few bites of larb ped (boneless ground duck in chili and lime) or Issan duck soup, you knew you were in the presence of something special.
- 3839 W. Sahara Ave., 873-8749
- Sunday, noon-9:30 p.m.; Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Weera is the first name of the chef/owner of the restaurant—Weera Thonguthaisiri—and Issan is the food referred to on the sign and listed on a special portion of the menu. Both the chef and the cuisine come from this northeastern section of Thailand, a region known for its poverty but also for simple, incendiary cuisine. Issan food is less fussy than other Thai food, and favors Chinese-leaning noodles, lots of salads and ground meats invariably tossed with lime juice, chilies and herbs. Before you get to those, though, an order of crab stick is mandatory. Crab meat mixed with cream cheese is wrapped in pencil-sized rice paper sticks and deep-fried in a sort of elongated crab Rangoon, served with a housemade plum sauce. These will disappear quickly, and their textural perfection signals that someone in the kitchen understands how to balance and deep fry an appetizer.
You’ll then be tempted to dive into a definitive duck curry or that duck bone soup (containing half a carcass). Not so fast, pilgrim. Surely you’ve had dadd deaw (beef or pork jerky) dozens of times before, but most assuredly, you’ve never had it like this—dried, tender and deeply flavorful—not like a piece of saddle leather requiring endless mastication.
Once you’ve polished off those appetizers, the salads will tempt you next. After repeated trips here, you learn that mincing and mashing are the watchwords of many a dish, so you order crispy catfish salad expecting deep fried chunks of fish. What arrives is something that challenges your understanding of what a salad can be: golden brown, crispy ornaments of catfish lace—achieved by making a paste of the fish before frying it—garnished with julienned apples and a peppery apple dressing.Surprises like this continue throughout the menu. Larb plar (ground fish with spices) isn’t common anywhere but northeastern Thailand, but it’s not any less delicious for it. Likewise, ped nom tok (boneless roasted duck with chilies) is quite a treat—both because of its extraordinary flavor and the way everyone’s face lights up after each bite.
Whole fish are given the full, deep-fried and festooned treatment (every bit as tasty as Lotus’ versions), but those in your crowd who don’t like picking around bones will find the spicy sea bass hot pot deeply sour and satisfying, the fish beautifully filleted into snow-white squares. If fish and fowl aren’t their things, direct them straight to the khor moo yang (marinated barbecued pork with housemade spicy tamarind sauce)—a take on ’cue that shows the Chinese influence on this cuisine.
Weera is anything but typical Thai, and the Thonguthaisiris have taken the time and money to make this store a warm, comfortable class act in a small strip mall best-known for stiletto shops.