Every now and then I run into a sound man by the name of Albert. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Albert on several occasions with no complaints. That’s a rarity in the music biz. Albert has brought to my attention that he refuses to eat Thai food anywhere in south Alabama except for one place: Taste of Thai in Irvington.
I’d like to think we have decent Thai food here and there scattered about Mobile County. So why would he journey all the way to Irvington? How good can it be? It seemed important enough to him, as we rarely spoke of sound equipment anymore. Our last few run-ins have yielded discussions of dishes and the quality of the food, service, etc. OK, ok, I get it, the Thai place in Irvington, I’ll go.
There are two ways to get there. The first is the Calamity way. Let’s call this the scenic route where you take Highway 90 all the way from Mobile. You’d better have time to kill. If I were you I’d take the interstate to the Irvington exit. Then hang a right on 90. It cuts the drive down to where a Mobilian could make this trip on a slightly elongated lunch break.
For this review I brought along my good friend and avid Pad Thai fiend Dutchie Cunningham. Dutch is a pretty straight shooter when it comes to food, and if anyone can lend a critical perspective to Thai food it would be him.
This place is in a small strip mall type of shopping center with a very helpful Asian market. Upon entering Taste of Thai I noticed from my corner table the “Wall of Flame” above the front door. Photographs of customers beaming with pride provide diners a glimpse into the who’s who of Irvington spice lovers. Each picture has a number indicating the level of heat. I don’t recall anything under 100. Dutch and I were playing it safe by ordering level 3.
All of the appetizers looked appealing so we started the meal with Family Delight ($12.95). This sampler platter arrived with four of each. Chicken Sa-Tay was tenderly cooked with coconut milk and served with a side of peanut sauce. Fried wontons were surprisingly fantastic and enhanced by sweet and sour sauce. Thai spring rolls (the fried variety) were vegetarian and not to be ignored. Shrimp rolls were out-of-this-world good. It’s just an egg roll wrapper around a shrimp deep fried. I could eat a dozen.
Still recovering from a bit of a cold, Tom Ka shrimp ($9.95) was the ticket to clearer sinuses and better health. This came family style as do all of their entrees and was so large two fairly stout fellows had to take half of it home. A wonderful version, the cilantro isn’t overbearing and the lemongrass hits the perfect note. The coconut milk was not too rich. This is one of my favorites.
I admit to not being the biggest fan of Pad Thai ($8.95, add chicken $1) so I was glad Dutchie ordered it for himself. Let me tell you I am a fan now. The clench ingredient in this dish was the homemade sauce. It was a little soupy on the serving plate, but perfect on the fork. The right combination of noodles, eggs, sprouts, chicken and peanuts made this a very affordable knockout of an option.
I was daring enough to try the daily special of Rice Cakes ($12.95, add shrimp $1). The vegetables were perfectly tender yet crunchy and the soft rice cakes were the first I have ever tried in this fashion. As much as I loved the Pad Thai, this was my favorite today. We left with enough leftovers for two more meals.
I needed more research.
Another visit with Calamity Courtney along for the lunch ride had me in stitches. The waiter was cracking jokes and poking fun at my goofy-but-charming friend about the way she chooses her protein options. She ended up with Crispy Chicken ($12.95) over its pork twin with little ridicule about the cuteness of pigs versus chickens. Crispy breaded chicken over stir-fry mixed vegetables were in an excellent brown sauce. I think I liked it more than she did.
On this visit I had to try Shrimp and Scallop Delight ($14.95) from the Chef’s Specialties section of the menu. I was impressed. Good-sized shrimp and smaller scallops were plentiful in the mixed vegetables, but once again the sauce is what brought it over the top.
So what sets Taste of Thai apart from some other Thai restaurants in our area? Let’s begin by saying the freshness is noticeable. There is a special amount of care that goes into crafting every plate. The sauces are amazing. No dish was a slop of overcooked vegetables or tough meat. I had shrimp both visits and found them to be spot on as far as cooking goes. The portions are humongous if you’re into the leftover thing. Add to all of this a slightly smart aleck waiter who would love to sell you fried ice cream for dessert and you’ve got a great lunch or dinner spot.
Open 10:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, Taste of Thai is a diamond in the middle of nowhere. Hats off to you, Albert, this was worth the drive.
Taste of Thai
9091 Highway 90 W
Building 2 Unit C
Irvington, AL 36544