The brick walls are phony inside of Bangkok Restaurant, but the Thai food is the real deal. Open since the mid 1980s and aligned with a next-door Asian Grocer, this humble East sider is one of the oldest Thai eateries in Columbus and still one of the best.
Along with the bogus bricks, Bangkok’s large single room is equipped with ethnically appropriate photos and knick-knacks, a television cranking out Thai music videos (talk about must-see TV), simple tables and booths and not a whole lot else. Call it a bare-bones mom-n-popper that achieves a measure of charm through friendly servers (whose excellent suggestions help make sense of a mammoth menu) and a regular clientele amongst whom English is rarely the dominantly spoken language.
Since it’s all about the authentic food here, I’ll get right to it and pronounce the Tom Ka Gai soup phenomenal ($8; I ordered it, like I did everything, at a threatening-but-not-dangerous, 3/4 level of spicy heat). Characteristic for this place, it was a huge serving sporting an uncommonly balanced and nuanced fusion of bold flavors. Creamy coconut milk and a hint of sweetness smoothed-out a rush of lime, lemongrass, galangal, cilantro and chili playing nice with a bunch of white meat chicken slices plus a whiff of fish sauce.
Also giant-sized and top-notch was Larb Gai ($11), a warm ground chicken salad. Again, this pulled off the difficult trick of letting a litany of tongue-lilting ingredients — lemongrass, lime juice, cilantro, scallions, chilies, lettuce (refreshingly used as a vegetable) and fish sauce — speak at perfectly calibrated volumes to create a harmonious conversation of flavors.
Once more that kind of table talk was cheap ($8) yet unleashed a wealth of arousal with the Pad Ka Tiem. This garlic lovers delight featured spicy, smoky and mildly sweet, grill-marked chicken brightened by cilantro, deepened by sesame oil. A must!
The Pad Puck Boong ($7) greens were as good as gold. Described as watercress on the menu, they met my tongue and teeth like a fibrously chewy cousin to spinach given a salty, spicy and garlicky stir-fry.
Meaty, Chinese five-spice-kissed chunks of tender duck and mildly funky duck liver starred with Chinese broccoli in a blockbuster titled Pad Ka Nar ($10). Visually and texturally mimicking the duck — and amplifying a mellow earthiness — were stir-fried mushrooms.
Bangkok’s single yet recurring stumbling block popped up in an otherwise wonderful dish of big and plump mussels dunked in a sweet, thick, spicy and licorice-y (from Thai basil) rust-colored rich sauce that tasted almost Italian (Pad Hoi, $10). This flaw is just-overcooked proteins that here resulted in sorta chewy shellfish.
Similarly, marginally tough meat strips mildly marred an otherwise triumphant beef and cilantro salad awash in a light and lime-y dressing with a serious kick (Yum Nuea, $11). Cooling-off cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and onions added additional crunch and interest.
Pad See Ew with seafood ($10) outfitted fat, satiny and smoky (from a high-heat stir-frying) noodles with garlic, Bangkok's ubiquitous little firecracker chilies and plenty of ocean meat. Though delicious, again, the shrimp, cuttlefish and crabstick could've been more tender.
Moral of this story: Even when it overcooks the proteins a bit (I didn’t experience any deal-breaking occasions of this), Bangkok makes damn great Thai food.