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by Matt Simpson Siegel |

Thai food is sweeping the area like kudzu; taste buds are sizzling and new spots have been popping up over the past year quicker than you can say “phrik khi nu suan.” If you don’t know what this craze is all about, catch up or you’ll be as clueless as the Khmer Rouge about the 4 Noble Truths. If your stomach is as empty as Angkor Wat and your borborygmi mantra isn’t helping your chakra, follow me through the jungle of Thai cafés, bistros and restaurants to four uniquely different West Michigan eateries.



RAND RAPIDS’ Monroe Mall has been cursed on-and-off for de- cades as far as cafes are concerned. Luckily, ANGEL’S THAI CAFÉ (136 Monroe Center NW) has recently celebrated its one year anniversary.

With 64 different reasons to come by, and the added addition of Bubble Tea, you’ll be eating lunch here every week for more than a year; and that doesn’t include the entrée options of chicken, beef, pork, tofu, shrimp, scallop, squid, or crab. Although the appetizers are par for the course, the entrees here will give any initiate a comprehensive idea of Thailand’s cuisine. Pad Prik is a traditional and common dish, here served with minced jalap- eno, green peppers and onions, Spanish onions and mushrooms. Preaw Warn is a sweet and sour dish I’d recommend to those with preferences in Americanized Chinese dishes. Pad Thai is another common dish of stir fried rice noodles with bean sprouts, eggs and green onions. If you’re a veteran, skip over to Angel’s signature dishes for something out of the ordinary. The Pla Tod is a breaded fish fillet of red snapper (or catfish) smothered in green onions and bell pep- pers in a ginger and garlic sauce. For something truly unique, the barbecue beef of Yum Neau should turn your head, as it is a cold BBQ dish.

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DINING SECTION on page 53!

At THAI CUISINE (310 N. Drake Rd., Kalamazoo) – also celebrating a first anniver- sary – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate date night destination as the Thai Zeitgeist continues. The ambience will have you bedazzled and give you moment for pause before pondering the menu. Owner Billy Kue has created an incredibly comfortable dining experience where a vegetarian or vegan Thai lover ought to stop. Don’t get me wrong, the meat dishes are out of the ballpark for quality (Filet Mignon may not be Thai, but when its seasoned in ginger and chilies… praise Buddha), but the stars are aligned above the building so as to bestow magic into the vegetables. High-end ingredients uncommon to our area are available here

unlike other places and the seasons affect the availability of some. With that in mind, the tastes of the plates here, even the common ones found elsewhere, have that little extra something that goes farther than you’d expect.

BANGKOK FLAVOR (5455 Gull Rd. #B, Kalamazoo) has been serving Kzoo County since 1991. Oldest of

the four, this one has stood the test of time in West Michigan and doesn’t pad or quadruple its menu with Chinese, Sushi, or Korean. For appetizers, look into the Tiger Cry, grilled beef served with a lemony sauce with a rich tang, or the Fried Tofu in a rich peanut sauce. With four levels of hotness, don’t go overboard on spicing the Tom Yum or Tom Kha soups as it drowns out the broth. For house specialties and entrees of note, check into the Nam Mun Hoi, a flavor- ful oyster sauce over mushrooms, carrots and green onions; Gang Garee—potatoes and green onions in a coconut yellow curry sauce flavored with red chili, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric (an aphrodisiac, analgesic,

and anti-inflammatory)— is so good it should be considered Ancient Thailand Medicine.

Opened by siblings Lisa and Joe Her, ERB THAI (950 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids) has been burning resilient and veteran Thai aficio- nado pallets en force with seven levels of spicy since last June. This is the spot if you want an endurance test. Pick an entree at the Erb Thai Hot level of nearly unbearable spice, yet overly enjoyable taste. Skip the pad thai for the House Special noodles; sautéed egg noodles stir fried with eggs, carrots, bean sprouts, green onions, and pea pods in a sweet sauce. With more than a dozen stir fry and curry dishes, try the Pineapple Fried Rice for some- thing as simple and spicy sweet as one would imagine or the Basil Curry, a flurry of flavorful basil and Thai red curry, coconut milk, bell peppers, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots. And if you feel like a chicken wing, the Sriracha Wings are so hot you’ll forget buffalo wings exist. n

PHOTOS // Above: Erb Thai; Left: Angel’s Thai Cafe, shot by Seth Thompson


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