There are so many good-to-great Thai restaurants in Las Vegas now that it’s difficult to decide which one we want to make our own. The regular spot. Here’s what might be happening: We are thinking about the dish we are most in the mood for and traveling to the restaurant that does that dish best. It’s actually a very Thai way of eating, or so I’m told. But it’s not making decisions any easier. We’re not sure who has the best tom kha gai soup, for example; we love the stuff at Lemongrass in Aria, but Weera Thai’s version is right up there, too.
If it’s nam som you’re craving, the larb-like salad of ground pork with ginger, onion, peanuts and lime, you must check out the one at Penn’s Thai House. It’s explosive, absolutely kicking with chili and ginger, and beautifully balanced with a bit of freshness from cilantro leaves and solid crunch from the peanuts. It’s perfect. But now we’ve got more problems—there are so many more amazing dishes at Penn’s.
This tiny spot on Sunset just east of the 95 has become a favorite of local critics and foodie-explorers, because chef Penn Amarapayark makes everything from scratch, including her own curry pastes. Eating at Penn’s feels like visiting a friend’s home. There’s a richness and affection to this food that is uncommon, even among all the other good-to-great Thai restaurants around Las Vegas.
Those curries are complex and memorable. At first taste, the green curry seemed light and smooth, creamy with coconut milk and festooned with bamboo shoots, but after its flavors overcame the spice from eating all that incendiary nam som, it had considerable depth and heat of its own. Penn’s pad see ew ($8.95), the dish frequently known as drunken noodles, is different. There’s no clumping together with these flat rice noodles, saturated with chili, rice vinegar, garlic and soy, and decorated with juicy chunks of tomatoes and basil leaves.
Tender, lemongrass-accented Thai barbecued chicken ($9.95) is served off-the-bone, ideally with rice and spicy papaya salad with shrimp. Come to think of it, Penn’s tom kha gai, coconut and galangal soup loaded with chicken and mushrooms, is also really good. There’s a unique sweet bite here: steamed bread buns filled with green tea custard, served warm. Don’t skip those.
It’s tough to compare our Valley’s plethora of delicious, incredibly affordable neighborhood Thai joints. Even if the menus look similar, remember that there are hundreds of ways to make the same dish. Some of this diversity is due to regional variations in cuisine; some is because cooks just like to cook their own way. If you like Thai food, you could do a lot worse than Las Vegas. And if you love this food, and you’re here, Penn’s has to be on your list.
Penn’s Thai House 724 Sunset Road, 564-0162. Daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.