Lotus of Siam is a legend. Chef Saipin Chutima’s beloved restaurant has been so good for so long, it might be an easy assumption that in Las Vegas, Thai food begins and ends at Lotus. But that’s not the case, not even close. Thanks to our proximity to LA and a constant influx of diverse people, Las Vegas is actually one of the best Thai food cities in the country—at least, that’s what I’m routinely told by visiting chefs and foodies who can’t get their fix elsewhere.
Lotus is an institution and a great place to begin a local Thai tour, and neighborhood fixtures like Archie’s, Chada, Pin Kaow, Le Thai and Penn’s are established and popular. What are you missing?
No. 1 on the list of unsung greatness has to be Weera Thai (3839 W. Sahara Ave. #9, 702-873-8749), a modest, central outpost that specializes in flavors from the northeastern region of Thailand. The food here is so consistently spectacular, you may question loyalties to your (previous) favorite. Crispy, creamy crab stick ($7.95) and spicy, sour, crunchy catfish salad ($13.95) are must-order starters, and it only gets better. I recommend you try at least one dish from the Issan menu, maybe the incendiary larb plar ($9.95) ground fish salad or charbroiled ribeye with spicy tamarind sauce ($15.95).
Tons of Thai restaurants serve Chinese food, too, and the first to do it in Las Vegas was Kung Fu (3505 S. Valley View Blvd., 702-247-4120). In fact, that’s why it’s called Kung Fu—an approachable name for an Asian restaurant that opened in Downtown Las Vegas an astonishing 40 years ago. It slowly transitioned its menu to about 65 percent Thai and eventually moved to the Chinatown area, where it’s still a favorite for Asian tourists craving tom yum soup ($9.25), pad Thai noodles ($9.95) or my top pick, chopped chicken with chili and mint ($9.25).
A brand-new example of this friendly fusion is Oriental House (8560 W. Desert Inn Road, 702-550-4262), where an untamed menu runs the gamut from soft rice paper-wrapped summer rolls ($5.95) to spicy Korean noodle salad ($8.95) to “American” fried rice ($10.95) with fried chicken, carrots and raisins. But the kitchen still handles Thai dishes well, especially the righteously flavored duo of “perfect ginger” chicken ($10.95) and praram long song ($13.95), a yellow curry-laced stir-fry of shrimp and vegetables with peanut sauce.
If you’re ready for the next level of truly innovative Vegas Thai food, pilgrimage to Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen (2110 N. Rampart Blvd. #110, 702-360-8885), a tiny jewel just within the Summerlin border using the tapas approach with compelling results. The deep-fried spinach salad must be eaten to be believed, but it’s really just a gateway to a magnificent menu including spicy green bean pork ($16), basil-chicken pot stickers ($8), “fresh off the boat” pineapple rice ($18) and unbelievable green curry with salmon, avocado and eggplant ($23). Nittaya’s is more than one of our best Thai restaurants; it’s one of our best neighborhood restaurants, period.