Thai dishes with a homegrown touch
Lanna Thai is housed in a 1952 lunch car, complete with vinyl bar stools and faded lace curtains. On the bar is a pile of massive zucchini with a sign informing us they are from Max’s garden and selling for 50 cents apiece. Owner Agachai “Max’’ Katong has a formidable green thumb. In cargo shorts and a polo shirt he saunters around his tiny restaurant, running the front of the house, cracking jokes. When asked, he explains dishes in detail, including which ones feature fresh veggies from his own garden.
The food here is quite terrific, beginning with yum nua ($9.95), an appetizer of thinly sliced grilled beef, which comes with bell peppers, chilies, and onions, over a salad of cucumber, cabbage, tomato, and iceberg lettuce and topped with mint and a spicy chili-lemongrass dressing. Flecks of toasted and ground uncooked sticky rice offer a unique and crunchy garnish. The dish hits every taste bud - a superb combination of salty and sweet, spicy and cool, crispy and warm. Yum koong ($10.95) is the shrimp version of the same dish. Mango shake ($2.95), just sweet ripe mango, ice, and milk, is the perfect pairing for these delicious hot dishes.
Lanna Thai bags ($6.95) are fetching fried phyllo bundles, all crunchy, filled with ground chicken, cabbage, and carrots. They come with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. It’s tasty enough, but a bit bland after yum nua and yum koong.
Chicken prik pow ($10.95) is a dish of stir-fried ground chicken with onions, green beans, pineapple, and summer squash (from Katong’s garden), served with lettuce cups to scoop up the mixture. We dip the packets into a spicy-sweet sauce that’s served over a flame, like fondue. It’s a little cumbersome to eat but nicely sweet and hot. Duck choo chee ($15.95), a Thai menu classic, comes with a somewhat underseasoned bird in a mild kaffir lime, coconut curry sauce, with snow peas, and broccoli that are nicely crisp-tender.
Lanna Thai string beans ($12.95), a specialty of the house, comes topped with chicken and a spicy chili sauce, with galangal, lime leaf, and to our surprise, ketchup. The sauce has an addictive sweet heat but doesn’t stick to the beans, so we soak it up with the sticky rice Katong brings to the table and teaches us to eat with our hands.
Spicy noodle soup ($9.95) tastes like good Vietnamese pho - a clear flavorful broth with hints of chili and lime, garnished with tender chicken, rice noodles, Thai basil, scallions, and peanuts.
And then there’s the ubiquitous Pad Thai ($9.95), made quite well here. At Lanna, when you ask for spicy, it actually comes that way. These rice noodles are delightfully chewy, garnished with egg, peanuts, chicken, bean sprouts, and flecks of crushed red chilies. Chicken noodle curry ($12.95) contains carrots, baby corn, broccoli, and egg noodles with white meat chicken in a rich, yellow curry coconut broth. This flavorful and deeply satisfying bowl is topped with kaffir lime leaves and sliced scallions.
Mango sticky rice ($5.95) is made with black grains that are chewy and sticky, and delightful with the sweet, silky mango. This delicate dessert is only available during peak mango season, which explains why the table next to us orders multiple rounds. A perfectly good excuse, so we follow their lead.
Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.