You can see the crown of a Sarah Palin-style hairdo sliding back and fourth behind the counter at Thai House Restaurant. Thai versions of '80s hits play in the background and the tangy smell of curry perfumes the air as Malada Vongsamath works in the kitchen. Head chef and owner, Vongsamath prepares every dish served.
On my first visit I ordered kaeng karie ($8.75) asking for tofu instead of chicken. The menu describes a yellow curry with potatoes, onion slivers and sticky white rice on the side.
I got everything I expected, plus broccoli and cute baby corn. The bright curry sauce wasn't as flavorful as I hoped for, but was still delicious.
It was thick and creamy, coating every inch of the rice. The potatoes were tender and broke apart easily. The onions and corn crunched slightly when I bit into a steamy forkful.
The food at Thai House is authentic and top quality. Vongsamath, formerly of Laos and Thailand, grew up working in her parents' midtown restaurant. It was also called Thai House, but has since changed hands, names and locations. Vongsamath opened her own place three years ago in a tiny strip mall near the Dimond Center. I imagine hundreds of people drive past every day but probably never notice it. They should.
Thai House's menu features salads like yum kung pla muk ($11.75), a mix of shrimp and squid with lime juice, vegetables, lemon grass and cilantro. There's also som tum malakor ($8.50), a shredded green papaya salad with garlic, chili tomatoes, peanuts, fish sauce and lime juice.
Seafood and vegetarian options include rainbow shrimp ($11) served with tomato sauce and loaded with shrimp and assorted vegetables. Yum talay ($8.75) is a mix of steamed vegetables and tofu topped with peanuts and milk.
When I called in my next order I asked for a noodle recommendation and was told to try the spicy mint noodles ($8.95).
Wide, flat noodles swam in a spicy brown meat sauce with mint leaves, jalapenos peppers, garlic, scallions, bean sprouts, egg bits and broccoli. It can be ordered with chicken or beef. I opted for chicken and it was white meat sauteed and sliced into perfect bite sizes. The noodles were tender while the sprouts and broccoli added crunch to the meal.
My order also came with a cup of soup that I quickly devoured. It was similar to chicken soup, but with more pizzazz. A thick, creamy broth overloaded with rice, chicken, scallions, carrot and ginger slices.
I also asked for a soup recommendation and was told to try the Tom Kha Kai ($9.75). When I opened my container I was instantly smitten. It was bright orange with a spicy-sweet aroma. There was coconut milk, thin slices of galanga, whole mushrooms, onion slices and chunks of chicken. Galanga looks similar to ginger, but tastes earthy and isn't as overwhelming as ginger can sometimes be.
I also sampled the spicy tofu ($8.75). Despite the name, it wasn't spicy. It was a mixture of onion slivers, baby corn, hot peppers and little tofu squares in a sweet sauce with white rice on the side. It had a slightly sweet oniony taste.
I asked Vongsamath if it's hard working seven days a week as a head chef and owner.
"I love it. It's my dream," she said.
I thought about that as I took a bite from one of her dishes later that night. It occurred to me that Vongsamath's passion and attention to detail is what makes the food at Thai House Restaurant great, and why it's worth trying. Sweet sauteed onions, moist tofu with a crunchy shell and a curry I could eat almost everyday. Hard work, fabulous ingredients and a chef who loves every dish she creates.
• Got a restaurant tip, a new menu, a favorite dish or a chef change? Send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Thai House Restaurant
Location: 9191 Old Seward Highway
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 1 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Opitions: Dine in, takeout, delivery
By Rebecca Palsha
Daily News correspondent