Lotus of Siam: Leaving Las Vegas Strip for Northern Thai

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Lotus of Siam is by far the most popular off-strip Vegas restaurant.

It’s easy to spend a weekend in Vegas confined to the Strip, drawn to the array of restaurants with celebrity chefs, shockingly creative designs and the highest of high end ingredients. Kobe beef tasting menu, anyone? Still, convenient and deluxe aren’t always interesting enough adjectives when it comes to describing restaurants. I kept reading about Lotus of Siam, an off the Strip hole-in-the-wall that was supposed to deliver some of the best Thai food in the U.S. I went with five friends to investigate.

Chef/owner Saipin Chutima is from Chiang Mai, Thailand, and specializes in Northern Thai dishes, which are influenced by neighboring Myanmar, Laos and South China’s Hunan Province. She apprenticed under her husband’s grandmother, a cook for the Thai royal family. Mrs. Chutima perfected her current menu at her former restaurant, Renu Nakorn in Norwalk, California. In 1999, she left Southern California with her menu and her husband Bill in tow to open Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas.

My friends and I were pre-warned that the restaurant featured atrocious décor, but it was fine. Fake crystal chandeliers could have been plucked from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and joined nondescript tables and chairs, stand-up wooden table dividers, and rows and rows of framed photographs of the owners with diners, famous and not. They prominently displayed a Pat Sajak photo.

Thai Food Las Vegas

We began with Som Thum ($6.95), a blend of crunchy julienned green papaya, chili, dried shrimp, tomato, crushed peanut, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar.

Our waiter asked how spicy we wanted it, asked us to choose a number between 1 and 10, 10 being the spiciest. Tamara said, “Seven.” Our waiter said we wouldn’t want it any spicier than that. I asked how hot he takes his papaya salad. “Ten. But I grew up on it.” Sounds like a flagrant example of spice-ism. Of course, he was also right. The chili-heat of the dish almost overpowered everyone at the table. We resorted to chomping on the accompanying wedge of iceberg lettuce to dull the pain.

We ate three dishes from the laminated menu of Northern Thai delicacies.

Thai Food Las Vegas

Khao Soi ($8.95) is a famous curry noodle soup made with coconut cream, chicken, and fried flat egg noodles on top.

A small plate of sliced red onion, lime and pickled cabbage, designed for garnishing, came on the side. Even though the soup lacked the fierce kick of the chili paste that accompanies the dish in Thailand, the rich, creamy mélange was still very good.

Thai Food Las Vegas

Larb ($8.95) is a typical ground pork dish found on most authentic Thai menus in the States.

The Northern Thai version involves no lime juice or chili kick. Instead, this ground hog bowl incorporated milder Northern Thai spices and was garnished with cilantro, simple and delicious.

Thai Food Las Vegas

Kang Hung Lay (Pork Stew Northern Curry) ($8.95) had Burmese overtones.

This rich, somewhat spicy bowl factored in pork, pork fat, dried and fresh spices, and tender curry paste-soaked pig cubes.

We ate two dishes from the “Lotus of Siam Special” menu section.

Thai Food Las Vegas

Nua Sao Renu ($9.95) featured sliced charbroiled beef served on a shredded cabbage bed, topped with tamarind sauce and fried dry chili. The meat was luscious, with an alternating spicy and sweet, delicious flavor.

Thai Food Las Vegas

Plar Dook Kra-Prow Krob ($28.95 – market price) was the final dish of the night, a large deep-fried whole catfish topped with sautéed red and green chilies, garlic, and crispy basil leaves.

The noble fish had crispy bronzed skin that sealed in tender, juicy flesh. It was a sensational, semi-spicy version of a Thai classic.

Thai Food Las Vegas

Dessert ($6.50 – seasonal) featured a sticky rice mound drizzled with condensed milk and a sprinkling of tiny yellow peanuts. Two cross-sections of juicy orange mango went marvelously with the sweet rice.

Lotus of Siam has an extensive wine list, but most of us drank Thai iced tea ($2), the rare version that actually tasted like it had iced tea in it. The drink also wasn’t the unnatural orange color common to so many neighborhood Thai restaurants.

The verdict: My friends and I were all massively impressed by Lotus of Siam. It was the best Thai food any of them had ever eaten, and it was the most authentic and best tasting Thai food I’ve eaten outside Thailand. Lotus of Siam will definitely become a Vegas tradition. And casinos beware; the experience will lead to more off-strip eating.

Lotus of Siam: Leaving Las Vegas Strip for Northern Thai


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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