Thai Lao in Kapolei delivers terrific Thai food
Nat Bletter of Madre Chocolate, who spent six months in Thailand for research, is one of my most trusted Thai restaurant scouts. He led me to Thai temple eats and Laotian food at S&T Thai, so when he said he had found "some of the best Thai food … on Oahu in a while," I didn't hesitate, even when he said it was in Kapolei. We went.
Thai Lao didn't disappoint.
So much was so good. The fish cakes, fish patties with chopped up long bean for texture and kaffir lime leaves for fragrance, were crispy-edged and irresistible. Larb, the ground beef salad, is a staple around many Thai places; here, it struck a perfect balance of sweet, sour and herby. An eggplant salad, if you ordered it without meat, was like a vegetarian version of larb, smoky from the roasted eggplant.
From left: fish cakes, tamarind soup, spring rolls
Tamarind soup, which none of us had had before, was one of the most memorable dishes: a tangy soup thickened slightly with tamarind pulp (I'm guessing), holding tender fillets of fish.
Noodles and curries did not live up to the promise of the other dishes, or maybe it was just in comparison to the fish cakes and larb and tamarind soup that they didn't seem as thrilling, demanding a drive back the next day for more. (As I did.) The only curry that might be worth a return trip for me is the fried fish with red curry sauce, battered, crispy fish tossed with lots of green and red bell pepper and onions.
Dishes that sound mundane, such as the spring rolls, fried chicken and stir-fried ong choy, belied their brilliance. Chefs still stuck in the carrot and broccoli routine should take note of the ong choy, topped with yellow bean sauce, chilies, fried garlic and shallots, a riot of flavor. The half of the table that was seeking hangover comfort rather than adventure ordered the fried spring rolls and fried chicken, but I ended up stealing bites—the spring rolls were extra crispy and light, as if they had been dredged in rice flour, and the fried chicken a win for the Thai in the world fried-chicken contest. (Though I still love you, Korea!)
563 Farrington Hwy., Kapolei, 674-2262, thailaorestauranthi.com