The Little Thai Joint That Could
By Tom Baker
Since moving back to Dayton some years ago, one of my first priorities was to find good Thai food. Before leaving for college, Thai wasn’t a big deal in Dayton. After discovering Indian, Japanese, Thai and even Burmese during my travels, I was hooked. When I got back, Thai 9 was all the rage, but I had also heard there was a good Thai joint on Third Street in the old Yummy Burger. Unfortunately, I never seemed to be able to get there and then I was told it changed owners. Having accepted that I missed the opportunity, I was happy to hear the family had decided to open anew in the former China Chef location on Wilmington Pike next to the Belmont Bakery.
Siam is small and unassuming, but the food is flavorful and the staff super friendly. Seating is limited so expect a wait on the weekends, and bring your own booze if you’re ready to enjoy a cold one with some spicy fare. Also be prepared to chat up your neighbors, as they’ll often squeeze you into spaces you wouldn’t expect, reminiscent of European-style seating. I find it somewhat charming, but based on the looks I’ve seen as guests are seated, it’s not for everyone.
Service is very pleasant and helpful and, in my opinion, is the reason many come back. The food is good too, but the staff seems genuinely happy you’re there, and that goes a long way. A great place for vegetarians due to the wide variety of menu options (both tofu and veggie-only options available for most entrees), what really sets Siam apart in this regard is their attention to veggie friendly detail. Every time I order a dish with egg, shrimp, or other non-veggie items, and I mean every time, they stop and ask if that ingredient is OK. This has been consistent for both phone and dining room orders – good looking out.
Now more on the food, the other reason Siam made my speed dial. There are no surprises here, just consistently good stuff. No worrying about whether or not the noodles will be greasy or two spice levels off – just what I ordered, as I ordered it. Start with the Soft Rolls – hand-rolled rice paper filled with rice noodle, cilantro, Thai basil, lettuce, and shrimp and served with a peanut-flecked tamarind dipping sauce with just a bit of chili. If you’re a bit more adventurous, try the fish cakes, silver dollar-sized and spongy fried cakes of white fish, chili and lime, accompanied by a really great cucumber sauce. On a cold day the excellent Coconut Soup will warm you right up, and it, like most items on the Thai menu, can be ordered with chicken, shrimp or vegetarian.
Entrees range from noodles to fried rice to curries, and also feature a large menu of Japanese items such as Ramen, Teriyaki, Sushi (try the Manhattan Roll) and Tempura. As is the case in most Thai restaurants, you can order food with a range of spice – in this case, from level one to level four. The heat rises quickly, but can be tamed by their Thai Iced Tea, the best in Dayton. The Pad Thai, Drunken Noodles, and Pad See Ew (my personal favorite featuring rice noodles, egg, carrot, broccoli, soybean paste and garlic) are very good, and the Chili Basil Fried Rice is a tasty way to clear your sinuses. The peanut-garnished Masaman yellow curry with potatoes, onions and carrots is probably a good starting point if curry is new to your repertoire and has quickly become a household favorite. One of the few things I don’t love is the Singapore Noodles, as I find the dry curry and noodles to be a less than perfect match.
If you’ve got someone in your group who isn’t in the mood for Thai, there are a handful of Chinese dishes such as Crab Rangoon, Sweet and Sour Chicken or General Tao’s Chicken.
Siam can also satisfy your sweet tooth with a handful of desserts. Your companions ordering sweet and sour with no spice can go for the Fried Bananas, but if you’re looking for something different, you need to try what my wife calls “bliss on a plate,” the Mango with Sweet Rice and Coconut Milk. The flavors and textures are somewhat exotic and they compel you to eat more than your stomach might prefer. But that might happen before you get to dessert
Now that Thai has a firm foothold in Dayton’s market for Asian cuisine, there are many choices for good Thai food throughout the area. Reasonably priced with almost everything on the menu under $13 – that includes seafood items – and offering quality eats as well as friendly and efficient service, Siam should make your Asian rotation. If it hasn’t yet, head for Kettering the next time you’re craving Pad Thai and a Cali roll.
Siam Pad Thai is located at 3027 Wilmington Pike in Kettering and is open 7 days a week. (937) 293-9606.
Reach DCP food critic Tom Baker at TomBaker@DaytonCityPaper.com.