Thai Grocery is a relatively small place, packed wall-to-wall. The Wife and I went recently, and became, by turns, enchanted and disenchanted with several items.
As you walk to the end of first aisle, theres an end-cap filled with little see-through plastic clam-shell boxes of stuff. These items which number perhaps 40 or more change continually, and they include things like mee krob, pickled vegetables of many sorts, and exceptionally cool fruit shapes which look like marzipan but are really cleverly shaped agar envelopes filled with bean paste (for pix, see Mike Gs growing online portfolio of food porn, linked below). I plan to grab a few random packages of such items every time I go; theyre small, relatively inexpensive, and contain the kind of thing youd probably never make at home but that provide interesting flavor notes to home-cooked meals.
On the subject of making at home, I also found some packaged soup that I like quite a bit. The label designates it as GaGa 100, and Ive had the Soto Mie and other flavors. Now, this is basically a ramen-type soup, and it goes for like 69 cents a pack, so its no mind-blowing gourmet stuff, but its good soup. The Soto Mie contains, in addition to noodles, three packages: broth powder, chili powder, and a separate bag that contains seasonings such as galangal and orange leaf in an oil-base, which punches up the broth quite nicely. GaGa provides a good foundation of Thai flavors, and I throw in all kinds of leftovers and make a decent and fast soup.
On the aisle before the register are several shelves of sticky rice bundles, filled with a light pork paste, wrapped in banana leaf, tied with coarse string, and going for a buck a shot.
We also bought some hot table items: red curry with green shoots (pot herb?), pork ribs with bitter melon, and what was described as tuna with some vegetables. The red curry was good, though I was sorry I didnt get the chicken version; a dish of just green shoots in red curry is a little thin on interest (but it becomes much more interesting with the addition of some packaged mee krob and pickles, referenced above). The pork ribs and bitter melon were largely uneventful, but I like bitter melon, and dont get it enough of it, so I was happy. The tuna dish was not to my taste at all; now, I am a major salt fan (I salt pizza), but this dish was way, way too salty even for me; it contained what looked like preserved radish and the tuna (which in a subsequent phone consultation, GWiv told me was probably mackerel). This dish was, for me, salty to the point of being inedible, but that is a small down-note in an otherwise fascinating and flavorful experience.
Overall, I like this place a lot. A very kindly Thai woman (who may have been the owners wife) spent fifteen minutes or more with The Wife and I going over more obscure items and providing some absolutely fantastic cooking tips (which, upon returning home, we followed with very good result). Thai Grocery is an excellent source for many fresh ingredients, including bamboo, tamarind, kaffir lime leaves, and krachai, as well as fish, meat and Issan sausage.
A trip to Thai Grocery should include the purchase of a $3.00 container of VI-approved nam prik, which is stacked in the cooler and on the left-hand side of the hot table. This green sauce is an excellent condiment for rice, of course, but also turkey sandwiches, chips, and soup that is less flavorful than GaGa.
5014-16 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60640