Just over a decade ago, esteemed LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold declared Las Vegas’s Lotus of Siam to be the best Thai restaurant in North America, and it has been pretty much booked out ever since – when I called, the earliest available reservation wasn’t for three months. Undeterred, I cabbed its bleak downtown stripmal location and managed – somehow – to wing a table on a walk-in. A few moments later, I was seated in the corner of huge, shabby dining room and delivered with a vast menu that promised to reveal all manner of culinary delights.
Expectations were obviously running high and our first couple of picks from said menu were, I’m saddened to admit, underwhelming. A classic Papaya salad was crunchy and fresh enough, but far from memorable. The satay chicken was tender and tasty, but otherwise nondescript. The enticing-sounding lime drink tasted a lot like Sprite.
But there were glimmers of Lotus of Siam’s greatness that shone through. The Tom Kha Gai (coconut soup) was rich and satisfying, with chunks of flavoursome chicken and a slick of fiery red chili oil atop its surface. And the drunken noodles with shrimp – a stalwart on every US Thai menus – were by far the best I’ve ever had; the thick rice noodles doused in a deeply savoury sauce and topped with eight or nine giant shrimp, encased in a light and crunchy batter. Given the number of appetising and inventive-looking dishes being deposited on tables all around me, I left feeling that Lotus of Siam might well be the best Thai restaurant in North America, but I certainly didn’t get the best out of it. I’ll just have to go back.