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Southeast Asian mix: Krung Thai’s superb offerings include dishes from Laos, Vietnam

Krung Thai has operated in its location on Menaul NE near Wyoming for 18 years. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

As they finally begin to emerge from under the shadow of COVID-related restrictions, local restaurants are facing a new challenge: a shortage of workers that has forced many places to remain in tak eout-only mode.

At Krung Thai on Menaul, the ornately decorated dining room was blocked off by a row of tables when I entered on a recent Saturday night. A woman hurried back and forth from the kitchen, bringing orders out for two waiting Grubhub drivers. She told me that due to staff shortages, the place will run as takeout-only operation for now. In a couple of weeks, she said, the restaurant would be moving to a hybrid model where patrons have the option of eating inside after they pick up their order. It’s similar to what Thai Vegan was doing when I ate there a few weeks ago.

You need to be agile to survive these days, and Krung Thai is nothing if not that, having lasted 18 years at its location in on Menaul NE near Wyoming.

The building that houses Krung Thai is set back from the street behind a small parking lot. A wall of red tiles lines the fa├žade, and the side wall wears a peeling coat of powder blue paint adorned with big red letters spelling out the restaurant’s name and contact information, including a website that appears to be defunct.

“Krung Thai” translates to “Thai city.”

The cuisine of Thailand bears the influences of its neighbors, and Krung Thai’s menu reflects that with Vietnamese dishes such as fried catfish in ginger sauce and Laotian specialties such as the ground meat salad called larb, also popular in Thailand. Prices are about the same as at the nearby Thai Tip on Wyoming and a little higher than those of Bangkok Bite across Menaul in the Hoffmantown Shopping Center.

Appetizers include a few exotic options such as garlic frog legs ($11.95) and Laos sausage ($10.95).

The Thai coconut soup known as tom kha is served with tofu and vegetables. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

The soup menu reflects the pan-Asian theme with choices such as pho and hot and sour. The Thai coconut soup known as tom kha ($11.95) is the standout. The creamy broth is brightly colored with broccoli and red peppers and fragrant with lemon grass. Thai spices and the subtle presence of fish sauce help keep the sweetness at bay, while mushrooms and blocks of tofu make it filling enough for a meal.

Although it’s often thought of as having Thai origins, papaya salad ($10.95) actually comes from Laos. Krung Thai honors this history by offering versions in Laos or Thai style. The latter, slightly sweeter, is served as a big block of shredded green papaya under chopped cabbage and butter lettuce. Dried mini-shrimp provide an intense shot of brine. Aware that the food at Krung Thai has a reputation for heat, I requested my salad to be just a little spicy. Sweet and sour flavors registered initially, and then the heat from the chile peppers swept them away and lingered long after the bite.

Pad Thai with pork, crushed peanuts, bean sprouts and red pepper flakes. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

Like the soups and salads, most of the entrees cost between $10 and $15 and are served in generous portions that will provide leftovers for all but the most prodigious eaters. The Pad Thai ($11.95) comes in a Styrofoam tray, most of which is given over to a slab of rice noodles tinged with sauce. Pepper flakes, crushed peanuts, limes and bean sprouts fill out the dish. The faintly sweet sauce, most of it absorbed by the noodles, was a bit listless, missing the sour notes you normally get from the tamarind paste.

Krung Thai’s yellow curry with chicken gets its golden-yellow color from turmeric. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

Curries make a better choice here. There’s the usual assortment of red, green, yellow and massaman varieties. The spice level of the yellow curry ($11.95), gilded with turmeric, was just enough to cut the coconut milk-based sauce laden with potatoes, onions, bell peppers and flattened pieces of white chicken meat. It’s Thai food at its best, fragrant, spicy and sweet, and it pairs exceptionally well with rice.

Mango with sticky rice, one of the desserts at Krung Thai. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

Speaking of rice, you get a large serving of the steamed variety with the curry, which in hindsight should have steered me away from the sticky rice-based desserts on the menu. Nevertheless, the lightly glazed fruit on the Mango Sweet Sticky Rice ($7.95) was a treat, even if the starch overwhelmed me.

Gluten-free options are restricted to the curries and the soups, the server told me. She was a friendly and efficient and brought the food out to our car a little over 10 minutes after I ordered.

Krung Thai is yet another high-quality Thai restaurant in the city. Even if you can’t sit down and order a meal there, getting takeout is pretty easy, and you can eat for days on the leftovers.