On our last two trips to Vegas we've gone "fancy" one night with L'Atelier at Joel Robuchon, and more casual on the other with Lotus of Siam - an unassuming Thai restaurant off the strip that has become a can't miss destination for foodies. LOS, as it's known for short, owes its fame not only to word of mouth, but to a series of rave reviews from food critics that began appearing shortly after it opened. The restaurant has thoughtfully lined an entire wall of the tiny waiting area with them, giving you something to read while you wait.
I can't claim to be a connoisseur of Thai food - but I do know what I like, and the food at LOS is better than any Thai food I've encountered to date. Some people feel it's a bit overrated, but if you aren't a connoisseur yourself or an implacable Chowhound, I think you will also be pleased.
We loved the Soft Shell Crab Salad, a pile of light and crispy fried soft shell crab, tossed with slivered green apple, peanuts, cilantro and onion in a slightly sweet fish-sauce spiked vinaigrette. It's a seasonal off-menu specialty, so you'll have to ask about it. We also enjoyed the popular Northern dish Nam Khao Tod, pictured below - crisp rice and Thai sausage with chiles, mint, onion, peanut and herbs in a tart and spicy lime dressing - and one of my favorite can't-miss-it-dishes at any Thai restaurant, Som Tam, or Green Papaya Salad. The Nam Khao Tod was crunchy, savory and tart - while the Som Tam was spicy, sweet and mouth-puckering - with the perfect amount of fish sauce funk.
After a successful run at the starters - on our first trip back in May with friends Lisa and Luis, we had a couple of minor missteps. The beef dish below was a little bland, and the calamari was a little rubberier than we'd hoped...
But we also had a lovely Choo Chee Shrimp - a sweet and spicy red curry that is one of my favorite dishes in Thai cuisine.
On our second visit a few months later, the four of us returned with our friend Tracy and placed our fate in the hands of our waiter, Tony, who Lisa and Luis had met before. After repeating our three favorite starters from the previous visit (and after contemplating the lobster special - a huge pile of the beasts for $125.00) we let him choose our entrees. He brought us Sweet and Sour Sea Bass, Grilled Shrimp with Lime Sauce, Green Curry Duck, Drunken Noodles with Pork, and Beef with Eggplant.
While he didn't bring us the most adventurous dishes on the menu, we ate very well. The Sweet and Sour Seabass was irresistible, with its crisp shell and flaky flesh, and the Green Curry Duck (pictured below) was a universal favorite - the best-loved dish of both our visits. The sauce on the shrimp was tart and interesting, but the shrimp themselves were a little tough, and the Pork Drunken Noodles were as good as any I've had elsewhere but not remarkably better. I have to confess I hardly remember the beef with eggplant dish, which must mean it wasn't remarkable either.
Don't get me wrong though. Even the dishes that weren't "exceptional" were delicious here, and we thoroughly enjoyed it all. I'm looking forward to a return trip to try some more of the Northern Menu and some of their specialties - maybe even that lobster. (If you go, be sure to ask about their specials and off-menu items - they seem to have a lot of them.)
We trusted Tony to choose our wine, and he brought us a 2005 Emrich Schonleber Riesling, which was absolutely perfect. They specialize in matching appropriate wines to their dishes, so don't be shy about asking for a recommendation. The service is very friendly and the servers have very obviously worked there for years.
One of the best things about dining at Lotus of Siam is, of course, the price - especially compared to the luxury dining destinations of Vegas. Our meal for 5 - three starters, five entrees and two bottles of wine was only $160.00, and $76.00 of that was the wine.
LOS is crowded and even with a reservation we've waited twenty to thirty minutes for a table. I don't recommend going without one - or you could find yourself hanging out in that little lobby reading Jonathan Gold's fawning review from 2000 for a loooong time.
Lotus of Siam
953 E Sahara Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89104