A couple of days ago I had lunch at a relatively new Thai restaurant called Thai Avenue. It's located just south of Argyle about a half/block on the east side of Broadway. Not to be confused with the nearby Thai Pastry, which we consider Ameri-Thai cuisine.
My ex (who is Thai), and I ordered two kinds of papaya salad: 1) "normal" Som Tom and 2) a version with crab shells called Som Tom Poo. We also had the grilled pork with tamarind sauce appetizer and an order of Pad Kra Pow (basil chicken), all with a bowl of plain rice.
The food is definitely an authentic Thai style, not Ameri-Thai. The grilled pork appetizer was very tasty, nicely marinated with a nice sauce accompaniment.... it seemed like it could use maybe another 30 seconds or so on the grill so you might order it kind of "well done"... but was very tasty. The basil chicken was very authentic, served finely chopped with real Thai basil, pepper, garlic, etc. I I like to add just a slight dash of fish sauce... very tasty.
Of the two papaya salads I definitely preferred the Som Tom Poo version. The "regular" Som Tom just wasn't quite heavy enough on something and/or the flavors had not quite "melded" together as in a perfect Som Tom.
On this issue I would mention that Siam Noodle and Roseded consistently have the most perfect papaya salads of all the places we dine at.
We inquired about the Tom Yom soup and were informed it is prepared with chili paste. This is not an unforgiveable sin as many restaurants in Thailand also use chili paste. HOWEVER, a home-cooked Thai meal will most often be a clear broth with the chili element coming from mounds of freshly-sliced whole chili's. This is much more time consuming so many restaurants just go with the chili paste. Other great Chicago thai places (Siam Noodle and Roseded I'm thinking of) also use chili paste and it can be quite tasty if all the other ingredients are present and well-balanced. Anyway, we were just so stuffed that we didn't order the soup but will next time.
BTW, consistently the best Tom Yom we have in the city these days is at Tie Me Up Noodles on Diversey where the owners (Nit & Noy) prepare it for their Thai friends. We're going to ask them if they will accomodate requests of chowhounds who ask for it specifically.
At this point I'd place Thai Avenue in the "mainstream" rather than "highly creative" category, perhaps similar to Siam Noodle in their menu... with a wide selection of all the basics.
The atmosphere is very bright & cheerful, probably about 10 tables or so. Friendly staff advise us that BYOB is fine...you might want to bring your own corkscrew also, just in case AND PRE-CHILL your wine.
A nice addition to the great Chicago authentic Thai scene.
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