This town is Thai crazy. When I first moved here in the mid ‘90s you would always hear about Thai food “way out in Tillman’s Corner,” a trek that was assuredly worth the drive. Then came Busaba’s. That was downtown’s step toward revitalization where Noble South now stands, but certainly buzzworthy. Bangkok on Airport has had its share of ups and downs but is a safer bet than the Red Lobster around the corner.
In more recent times the king of Siam in our area has been Taste of Thai, once again west of our usual stomping grounds, this time in the St. Elmo area. I didn’t believe the hype until I made the journey. It’s incredible with its “Wall of Flame” and their quirky waiter who keeps me in stitches.
The current craze in Thai is Aroy, at the corner of Government and Common in the former China House restaurant. Everyone in the OGD is head over heels for it, but my first visit was less than stellar, which tells me to give this place a chance to get up to speed before a true review. But there is another. …
Frank Trice has been in my ear about another “east meets west” hotspot called Charm Thai Kitchen. When I say west I mean Schillinger. Frank keeps on and on about it and though his lovely wife (who you read in these pages weekly) has my ear more so than he, I am now starting to pay close attention to Frank. He’s brought me gems such as Semmes House of Pizza and the award-winning Meat Boss, two great restaurants I first of heard from him. Spoiler alert: he’s three for three.
At Frank’s recommendation (he wanted a paragraph about how handsome and charming he is, but he won’t get it), Katie and I fueled up the family truckster, packed an overnight bag and researched hotel rooms in West Mobile in case we were too tired to drive home and headed out Airport Boulevard. Siri says to hit Schillinger and take a left. Charm is on the right, in the former location of Orleans Po’boys a little south of Target.
I used to randomly perform in this space so I knew the building well. It was a frigid night with snow threatening, and with many places closed we were one of the few couples there.
The perfect start was a pot of hot tea ($5 for two). It helped us shake off the cold and prepare ourselves for the other end of the spectrum with summer rolls ($5.95). I’m a sucker for these things, with a record of eating a half dozen in 20 minutes. Tonight we behaved and shared four with shrimp. The peanut sauce was a little sweet but a dollop of Sriracha evened that out, and I couldn’t stay away from it. Luckily Katie and I are close enough that we can double dip.
I can live on appetizers alone in a place such as this. Spicy Tuna Tower ($12.95) is another irresistible dish for me. You can forget the beloved Tuna Tataki when this is in town. Rice, spicy tuna and crab with avocado is a combination well suited for my current diet. The trouble is in the self-control, when I want to order two. I was able to keep my composure this go-around.
I’d heard their Tom Kah soup ($9.95) was spectacular. With all of this food they offered us a half size at $4.95, still enough to serve each of us a couple bowls and some to take home. I paid $1 extra for shrimp. The spice in this soup balanced the sweetness of the coconut, opening up those winter sinuses with the flavors of cilantro and lemongrass.
Ever meet a ginger who loved ginger? Well I have one. I knew as soon as I read the entrees that Katie was going to order Pad Ginger ($9.95). No extra charge for the chicken, this stir-fried mix of bell peppers, onions and black mushrooms in a light, transparent sauce didn’t exactly scream ginger at first, but a few bites in the flavor profile took off.
Between the shrimp summer rolls, the shrimp Tom Kah and the Tuna Tower, I was nearly seafooded out. I almost fell for a curry dish but my heart was in the Prik-Pao Chicken ($12.95). This crispy chicken is cooked with roasted chili paste and stir fried with onions, carrots, bell peppers and cashews. Of course it sounds so similar to a million Thai dishes from my spotted past but this was different. The marriage of the flavors, the crispness of the chicken, the subtlety of the spices — this dish was near perfect.
Even the rice here was outstanding. I’m a jasmine kind of guy these days and they nail it. The presentations were charming as well. I’d say Charm is the caliber of restaurant you would expect to command a much higher price. This gigantic meal that fed me the next day was less than $60 at dinner prices. Lunch specials are in the $7.95 range and include soups and appetizers with the entrée!
Of course I exaggerate the long, arduous 25-minute drive from my house, but we agreed we won’t bat an eyelash if dinner is suggested. I’d say it’s good enough to take visitors when you’re burned out on downtown.
With all this stellar Thai in our area, there’s no excuse for not adding a little culture to your diet. This is one you don’t want to miss. Thanks for the tip, Frank.
Charm Thai Kitchen and Sushi Bar
960 Schillinger Road, Ste. K
(Photo | Provided) Crispy chicken and pad see ew shrimp at West Mobile’s Charm Thai Kitchen & Sushi Bar.