24 Hours in Sin City and Chiang Mai

Between Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, two places that inspire hyperbole and conjure up visions of the West, lays another spot that looms large in American tales of the desert: Las Vegas.  I’d never been, but countless movies and TV shows told me what to expect – neon lights, seas of slots, endless shrimp cocktail, and Celine Dion. What I did not know was that one of America’s best Thai (actually, Northern Thai) restaurants would be tucked away in an Asian strip mall behind downtown Las Vegas, far from the lights of the Strip. Lotus of Siam is a relatively small, run-of-the mill looking Thai restaurant. What sets it apart may be the 2 hour lines, or the Hummer limo parked outside of it waiting for the VIPs to roll themselves back out after stuffing themselves. I couldn’t believe that a restaurant in Las Vegas was claiming to serve authentic Northern Thai food, and being an avid fan of Khao Soi (in my opinion the yummiest of all Northern Thai staples), we bypassed all the 4-star Boulud, Cochliccio, and Robouchon establishments on The Strip and got in line.

We were well rewarded. This little gem is so well reviewed that Serious Eats even has an eating guide to help you through the 8-page menu. Well-meaning though they are, I had a mission – there was Khao Soi to be eaten, and curries! Being only 2 people, we only got two mains (so tragic), and they were fantastic.
Khao Soi is basically a noodle soup, where the soup is a thick, coconut cream-laden curry, topped with a sprinkle of deep-fried crunch noodles and some slices of pork, with some crunchy pickles and onions on the side. It’s a curry-lover’s delight, and when I was last in Chiang Mai I ate it 6 meals in a row. Lotus of Siam did a bang-up job on their Khao Soi – we topped ours with their Chef’s Special crispy duck – which was a duck thigh confit, and lightly battered and fried. As duck is easily among my top 2 meatsloves, I was in heaven. Our other dish was a gussied-up panang curry, made with a tender short rib, rather the the usual chicken or pork. After all, we were in Vegas and should be living it up right?  (In my world, getting the Chef Special short ribs over chicken is pretty much the definition of living large in Sin City. That, and spontaneous order of the banana fritters.)

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