Besides being Thailand’s biggest city, Bangkok is its culinary heart. The sprawling metropolis is a melting pot of the nation’s regional cuisines, a place where aromatic herbs, fiery chilies and sweeteners such as coconut milk are incorporated into some of the world’s great dishes.
That cuisine is the inspiration behind Bangkok Bite, a family-run operation that opened in 2015 at Hoffmantown Shopping Center at Wyoming and Menaul NE. Set at the east end of Hoffmantown’s long, curving façade, it’s a tidy, sparely decorated space, small enough that you can hear your food hitting the wok soon after you order. The menu is refreshingly concise; just a few curry and rice dishes, along with a few soups, salads and appetizers.
Golden tofu ($3.99), the simplest of the appetizers, is prepared from extra-firm tofu cut into wedges and fried in oil to create a crispy armor around the scrambled-egg texture of the bean curd. The tofu is pretty flavorless, but it absorbs the thin dipping sauce of vinegar, chile and peanuts well. It’s great for sharing, although double-dipping may be unavoidable.
For many of the menu items, you’ll be asked to choose a heat level ranging from 1 to 5. At Level 2, the heat from the very good green papaya salad ($7.95) was noticeable, but short-lived. The unripe, shredded green papaya resembles bean sprouts, but has the taste and density of jicama. The addition of lime juice, ground peanuts and red chile flakes enlivens the palate and makes the average dinner salad look pretty pedestrian.
Each of the five curries on the menu is offered with a choice of protein. Yellow curry ($8.95), a variation the Thai people adapted from British visitors, is a souplike mix of curry paste and coconut milk heaped with bamboo shoots, carrots and herbs, and served with a mound of rice. It epitomizes the combination of fragrant, sweet and spicy notes that make Thai food uniquely delicious. The spice Level 4 was sneaky-hot; over a few minutes, it went from a brush fire to a conflagration. I was grateful to have a Thai iced tea ($2.50) only an arm’s length away.
The stir-fried rice noodles that make up pad Thai, Thailand’s most famous dish, speak to its Chinese origins, but the flavors of lime, fish sauce and palm sugar are pure Thailand. Bangkok Bite’s version ($8.95) registers mostly as sweet, sour and savory, with tender, flattened pieces of white-meat chicken adding some body. I had hoped to find out more about the dish’s composition, but the waiter told me the recipe was a secret.
Mango sticky rice ($4.50), one of two dessert options, was an ideal finish to the meal. A sliced, perfectly ripe mango half sits alongside a football-shaped serving of sticky rice in a thin, sweet coconut sauce. The mung beans sprinkled on top add a welcome crunch to the sweet, gummy rice.
Most of the food is gluten-free or available in gluten-free versions. Service was solid throughout the meal. It felt like visiting Bangkok for a meal with friends, only without the inconvenience of a 17,000-mile round trip.