Martin and I are huge fans of Anthony Bourdain. His books Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw speak to my lifestyle as a line cook, while his shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown have enabled us to vicariously explore the food and cultures of far-off places that we could only dream of visiting, all from the comfort of our couch. But when we watched his episode of Parts Unknown: Las Vegas, we knew that an accessible opportunity to follow his advice had finally come. On our most recent trip to Sin City, we went to Lotus of Siam.
LoS is tucked away off the Strip in an unassuming commercial district a few blocks away from the shiny new SLS Hotel (it replaced the Sahara). The parking lot is HUGE and believe it or not, one of the country’s best Thai restaurants is flanked by a mish-mash of establishments including other restaurants like Korean barbecue and small businesses like a billiards parlor and a beauty school. From what we hear, this place always has a line out the door at any given time during their hours of operation, so it seemed that luck was on our side then when we were seated right away on that Monday afternoon. (Protip: lunch is served on weekdays only.)
The single most important piece of advice I can give (and Bourdain has said this himself) is to order from the last four pages of the menu — Northern Thai specialties. My eyes widened at every menu description and it was hard to pick just a few to try on this visit but we chose the crispy garlic prawns, crispy duck in panang curry, and soft shell crab over drunken noodles. I had to convince Martin to get the three dishes to share between us (I wanted to throw in the khao soi as well but that will have to wait for another time); it was way too much food for just two people but I regret nothing. As I stared sadly at the leftovers that we would be unable to bring with us on the desert drive home, Martin couldn’t help but give me his “I told you so” look. I guess that is my only regret: not having the leftover panang curry sauce over rice the next day for lunch.
We started with Thai iced tea. The tea mixture, we learned, is pre-sweetened (and quite sweet) so we got ours with extra ice and half-and-half to mellow it out. Still a bit sweet for my taste but I usually consider it to be more of a special treat than a regular beverage anyway. Then the feast arrived at our table like a grand procession.
First came the garlic prawns. The prawns themselves were giant, and each one was delicately peeled so that the shell remained attached but exposed the body to its own layer of batter and seasoning. The shells were crispy, flaky, and completely edible — the menu description called them “almost like potato chips!” The prawns were juicy and perfectly cooked. It was reminiscent of a Chinese-Vietnamese dish (salt & pepper shrimp, or tôm rang muối) but solved the ever-present problem of seasoning only the outside (and often inedible) parts of the shrimp while leaving the meat inside bland. (Flavored sunflower seeds frustrate me for the same reasons.)
I’m a noodle fiend so one of our dishes just had to feature the flat steamed rice noodles. We got the drunken noodles with soft shell crab; the crab was crispy, deep fried, and drenched in the fragrant pad kee mao sauce. Tossed in with the pan-fried noodles were julienned bell pepper and plenty of Thai basil, my favorite! We got the most mild option so Martin could comfortably partake, but I’d love to try this again with a higher spice level.
Perhaps the most talked-about dish here is the crispy duck in panang curry — crispy duck gently laid atop a pool of red curry cream sauce bearing a hint of cognac. The duck was incredible — the fat rendered perfectly so that the skin crisped up while the meat remained tender and succulent, almost like a confit. The sauce of coconut milk and red curry was so aromatic that I could eat just that drizzled over plain rice for weeks. Again, we ordered this at the lowest spice level but I will have to try it again with more kick.
Chef Saipin Chutima was awarded Best Chef: Southwest by the James Beard Foundation in 2011. She is an incredible woman and I am so glad that she was recognized for the amazing food she creates. The next time you find yourself in Sin City, be sure to venture off the Strip for an epicurean experience you won’t soon forget.
Check out Lotus of Siam: lotusofsiamlv.com
953 East Sahara Avenue, Suite A5
Las Vegas, NV 89104
See their Yelp reviews here!