Downtown’s feisty new Thai restaurant puts forth aggressive (and authentic) versions of fiery dishes priced right. Chef/owner Dan Coughlin churns out, for example, a killer $9 Pad Thai that’s selling like hotcakes. How he succeeds will tell us a lot about what eating out will be like in this area over the next 10 years.
The Thai/Irish Coughlin is the scion of the King of Siam restaurant family—operators of several Thai restaurants in the Valley for decades. His mixed blood serves him well as he brings a certain youthful (and very American) sensibility to an ethnic cuisine he, quite literally, has in his bones. His tom yum (Thai hot and sour soup) and drunken noodles take a backseat to no one’s, and that Pad Thai might be the best version in town.
- Le Thai
- 523 E. Fremont St., 778-0888
- Monday-Thursday, 11:30-midnight; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-3 a.m.
Before you get to them, though, you’ll want to nibble on his succulent chicken wings (both juicy and crispy), while addictively dipping them in his spicy Sriracha/ranch dressing, or an order of tangled pork jerky—not as candied and sweet as some versions, but no less appealing for it. The waterfall sauce (a vinegar-spiked fish sauce) accompanying those sweet bits of pork is as compelling as any dipping sauce you’ve ever had, and like most of the flavors on this menu, is aggressive without being overpowering.
Like the aforementioned Pad Thai, the fish sauce/vinegar/sugar-based Awesome Noodles are awesomely tossed with big chunks of whatever protein you wish, and the Pad See Ewe (literally: stir-fried with soy sauce) doesn’t skimp on portion size either. That virtually everything on the menu is under $10 is remarkable—as is Coughlin’s signature soup: a Thai beef and meatball noodle so full of melt-in-your-mouth meat you’d swear you’re in a slurpy Thai steakhouse.
Chowing down on these specialties takes place in the crowded front room—containing only a few tables and a five-seat bar—or the slightly more open outdoor patio in the back. The menu is short and simple, everything is priced to sell, and the whole 50-seat joint has an über-cool vibe that makes you want to return. The size and the immediate popularity of the place creates something of a challenge for the small service staff, whose demeanor runs the gamut from distracted to overwhelmed. I’ve been in three times and have yet to see a smile on any of their faces.
None of the customers seem to mind, however, and all of them (Tony Hsieh included, who seems to be in every day) have adopted the place as a de-facto clubhouse. Coughlin is catching the zeitgeist of what Downtown threatens to become: a human-scaled environment for those seeking the anti-Strip. He has had the guts to do what no chef or restaurateur could bring himself to—take a gamble on an area that’s been a pariah to restaurants for two decades.
His crowded little establishment is a testament to how starved this area has been for something affordable, tasty and real. You should go, early and often. Not just because it’s Downtown, or because the food is so good, but because it’s Downtown and the food is so good.