Eating the Road: Is Lotus of Siam in Vegas the Best Thai in America?
In case you didn’t know it, Las Vegas has a dark side that centers around hedonistic behaviors, seedy smoke filled dive bars, alternative lifestyles and crusty carpet motels that wreak of the depths of despair all wrapped up in the great American strip mall. Located within one of these strip malls is Lotus of Siam , and if you didn’t know where you were, you’d drive right past it.
Lotus is off the Las Vegas strip, but plenty of people find it worth the trip up Sahara for a taste of Thai as many in the foodie world believe it should be served. But having eaten there many times, I just don’t see what all the fuss is about.
Food writers and nearly everyone in Las Vegas raves about Lotus of Siam; it’s even been called the best Thai in America. So I recently made a return visit just to set myself straight. I’ll have to admit that they have an impressive wine collection, so much so that Wine Spectator decided to give it a Best of Award of Excellence. Frankly, when I’m into spicy Thai I need a beer or Thai iced tea but I can see why a nice Riesling works equally well.
At Lotus, I start with the Thai staple Tom Kha Kai, a spicy chicken soup with coconut milk, lemongrass, some mushrooms and spikes of fish sauce and lime. While it’s tasty, there’s a lack of balance between the savoriness of coconut milk and the tartness of lime. Nothing extraordinary here.
I move on to the drunken seafood noodles and quickly I realize that someone’s left out the noodles. I’m stuck with bits of crab and a few rubbery scallops. An order of pan fried flat noodles are good, but for $12.9r, I deserve just a tiny bit more. Once again, some decent flavors but nothing on this side of spectacular.
While eating the basic mint and green chili pork, a friend reminds me via text message that Lotus’ Northern Thai cuisine is where all the action is. I had already ordered the Northern Sausage and the notion that Lotus of Siam was remarkable was becoming understandable. The sausage delivered the spicy flavors that I had expected; the pork danced among the pepper and the Thai chili and for once my mouth was delighted to be exploring some intense flavors.
By the time the Northern Red Curry made it to the table I understood what the fuss is about but I was not buying into it. The curry was exceptionally good: bold and herbaceous and soulful.
I tried to like Lotus. I studied for it, sampling a dozen Thai restaurants in Los Angeles’ Thai Town. Las Vegas Chef and LA native Jet Tila recommended even more restaurants to explore, which I dutifully visited. One place Jet sent me to, Ord Noodle or Kwayteow Hoi Ka, in Thai Town, was exceptional. This, I thought, was Thai heaven, even better than Lotus.
So is Lotus the best Thai in America? Guess it depends on your taste. For me (and for several prominent Thai chefs–who should know good Thai when they taste it), Lotus of Siam is good, maybe even great. But it’s not the best in the land.
One more thing: My bill at Lotus of Siam was $61. At Ord Noodle, $26.
Lotus of Siam
953 East Sahara Avenue # A5
Las Vegas, NV 89104-3028
5401 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027