Lotus of Siam

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You must go to Lotus of Siam. That’s all there is to it! For the best Thai food in Las Vegas, and possibly the country, you must go to Lotus of Siam!
Lotus of Siam is a simple establishment. It’s not on the Vegas Strip. It’s not connected to a big casino. It’s in a nondescript strip mall a couple miles East of the Strip. The decor isn’t fancy, and the food is very reasonably priced. But it’s a foodie’s dream - excellent, authentic Thai recipes that haven’t been gussied up for tourists.

Owned and run by a lovely woman named Saipin Chutima, Lotus of Siam has been called “the single best Thai restaurant in North America” by Gourmet Magazine. Chutima, who learned to cook starting at age five, is known for her Northern Thai recipes, yet her Bangkok style cuisine, a more familiar style for most folks, is equally good. With nearly 150 dishes on the menu, serious Thai food fans will find it difficult to choose just one or two.

There hasn’t been one dish I haven’t loved here. Of the appetizers, I’ve enjoyed the Koong Sarong (Prawns in a Blanket) - marinated prawns wrapped in bacon and a rice paper crepe, deep fried and served with a mildly spicy sweet and sour sauce. The prawns were light and perfectly fried, with the golden rice crepe wrapper giving them a nice crunch. I’ve also tried the Nua Dad Deaw (Issan Style Beef Jerky) - marinated beef, deep fried and served with a homemade spicy sauce. The dried beef was already tough, but after deep frying, it took on the texture of shoe leather...but the most delicious shoe leather, ever! Just bring a strong set of teeth and you’ll be fine. The beef itself was so tasty it could’ve been served on it’s own, but the sauce just enhanced the flavor!

Some of Saipin’s most subtle artistry was evident in her beautifully well-balanced soups. I’m a fan of Tom Yum soups, and the two variations I’ve tried were stunningly good. The Tom Yum Kung was a clear broth hot and sour soup with shrimp, lime juice, lemon grass, straw mushrooms, and just enough spice to wake up your mouth. Better yet was the Tom Kah Kai - a creamy, spicy mixture of sliced chicken, coconut milk, mushrooms, galangal, lemon grass and lime juice, with a slick of chili oil to provide delicious heat.

When it comes to Green Papaya Salad, I’m an addict. Their classic mix of green papaya, green Thai chili, dried shrimp, tomatoes, crushed peanuts, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce, have spoiled me for any other! The interplay of tart, sweet, and spicy make this a dish you must try!

I’ve tried entrees from different categories on this vast menu: From the Lotus of Siam Specials, I ordered what has become my new favorite Thai dish, Koi Soy; the Issan Thai version of Steak Tartare - minced raw beef with herbs, fresh and dried chilies, rice powder, a highly seasoned sauce and of course, lime juice. Like a beef ceviche of sorts, the acid from the lime juice “cooks” the raw beef. The flavors were bright and strong, yet layered. You choose a level of spiciness, but be careful! I love extremely spicy food, so I chose a level of 7 out of 10. The heat was tongue-searing, yet still one of the most exciting, intensely flavored dishes I’ve ever tried!

From the Noodles section, I tried one of the most popular stir fried dishes on any Thai menu; the Pad Thai. Made with chicken, egg, green onion, bean sprouts and chopped peanuts, this was subtle and delicious, with a smoky, tangy undertaste.

Having heard of Saipin’s expertise with Northern recipes, I sampled the Kang-ka-Noon (Spicy Young Jackfruit Curry). The chunks of jackfruit have a taste and texture similar to artichoke hearts, and swim in a delicious red curry broth made with fresh and dried spices, as well as your choice of pork, chicken or fish. You’ll be tempted to order more rice to soak up the extra broth.

Of the desserts, my suggestion is the Sticky Rice With Mango. Fresh, ripe mango slices and subtly sweet sticky rice with a touch of coconut milk, will help cool you down after the palate tingling spiciness of the meal.

When you consider that few tourists know of it, Lotus of Siam seems always to be crowded. My tip: Call early in the day when making reservations! As a walk-in party of one, I thought I’d be able to snag a table fairly quickly. But each time I’ve dined there, I’ve had to wait about a half hour before being seated. If you have to wait, however, it’s worth it! Once you’re seated, the staff will take great care of you, and I’ve never had to wait long for the food. And if you’re staying on the Strip and take a cab to the restaurant, the friendly hostess will call you a taxi for your return trip.

After my first visit to Lotus of Siam, I told friends that my mouth was burning, but in the best way possible. I look forward to many return trips to this gem of a restaurant to try more of their amazing dishes. Let’s see...there’s the Green Chili Dip...the Issan Sour Pork Sausage...the Seafood With Chili and Mint Leaves...the....

Yeah...You’ve GOT to go!

Michael Barbieri

Food & Entertainment Writer