Pad Thai House 

This may be one of the hardest reviews I've written in a long time. As a general rule, the worse the food, the easier the review is to write. To paraphrase Tolstoy: "All good restaurants resemble one another; every bad restaurant is bad in its own way." When I left Pad Thai House I knew I had my work cut out for me. How many times can I write "fabulous!" and "delectable!" in one review? I thought. The food is just that great.

Located in one of the valley's many ubiquitous strip malls, this fine Thai restaurant has distances itself from its concrete and squarish surroundings. It was formerly a Taco John's, but once inside, the Thai woodcarvings on the oxblood red walls, Buddhist sculptures and floor-to-ceiling bamboo blinds create a warm, serene dining environment. Gone were the frenzied traffic sounds from the Overland and Five Mile intersection. Gone were the furtive, early Christmas shoppers, dashing from parking lot to specialty store. With ample seating, a smiling server and a bit of Thai easy listening music, our group immediately felt at ease.

The many-pagedmenu is full of authentic Thai dishes and also some Chinese mainstays. The appetizer section features chicken, pork and beef satay, fish patties, fresh shrimp rolls, as well as our favorite, cha gior. The serving size was considerable, even for the four of us. Crispy, with a dipping sauce that had a generous kick to it, the cha gior offered the right inertia to take us into our entrees.

It was the weekend, and Cindy felt in a salad way. There are several salads, including som tum, a green papaya salad that sounded fabulous. Cindy went with the spicy grilled beef salad, a beautiful mixture of tender beef slices, lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes tossed in a spicy sauce. Many of the menu items at Pad Thai House can be ordered at four different spice levels: mild, medium, hot and authentic. Cindy, always a bit more daring in areas of heat, went with the medium. Even she found it pretty hot. The "hot" must be terrifying. According to our server, Thai patrons always order the hottest dishes. So, if you really want to eat "authentic" Thai food, be prepared for your head to explode.

Cory, our group's token teenage eater, ordered chicken rad na, pan-fried flat noodles with eggs, Chinese broccoli, gravy and soy bean sauce--which he found appetizing in the extreme. Pam's pho noodles soup was huge ("Did you bring your swimsuit?" Cory asked). Chunks of tender beef and noodles in a beef and galangal broth. She spent most of the meal working her chopsticks through the broth, rooting for the submerged savory nuggets.

Concerned that the heat factor might do in my taste buds, I went with the Thai gai yang, a Thai-spice-rubbed barbecued chicken expertly chopped into manageable chunks. It was fabulous--crispy on the outside, juicy inside, served with a sweet chili sauce and a bowl of rice. Despite the large size of our entrees, we grazed that table of food. Undaunted by swollen bellies, we ordered sweet rice topped with Thai custard and fried bananas for dessert. The rice and custard was a warm, not-too-sweet treat, and the fried bananas--covered with a kind of honey--were heavenly. "I'm in a deep-fried sea," Cory said. With appetizers, some Singha beers, big entrees and dessert, our meal came to a decently priced $58

All things being equal, Pad Thai House serves some of the best--and most authentic--Thai food in town. I say check it out.

--Chuck McHenry is such a spice wimp he sometimes uses bubble gum toothpaste.

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