By my most recent count, we have 20 strip-mall Thai restaurants from Gig Harbor to Bonney Lake. They range from Ayothaya, with its ornate dining room and dazzling food, to micro-focused Loak Toung Thai, featuring regional Isaan-style Thai.
Many of the others reside on my go-to list for Thai take-out.
BT Thai is the latest addition to our strip-mall collection. It’s a small restaurant that quietly opened about two months ago in a busy strip mall at the intersection of South 56th and Orchard Streets.
It flew under my radar until a reader mentioned it a few weeks ago. Thanks for that tip, reader.
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Here’s what you need to know before a first visit.
The skinny: Mom-and-pop restaurant with a succinct menu of Thai classics. The emphasis here is on speedy service, not an indulgent lunch.
The owner: Toon Choy, with help from family. The restaurant is named after his mother, Bour Thay, or BT for short. This is a first restaurant for Choy.
Dining room: Brightly painted with golden walls. Little decoration other than a photo of King Chulalongkorn. Seating for 32. Booths spanned one wall with a table for a large group in the center and a few four-seat tables along the opposite wall.
Menu: Shorter than most Thai restaurants with four pages and around 40 items listed.
Six appetizers included crab wonton, fresh or fried rolls, chicken wings ($5 to $7.50). Soups included tom yum, tom kha, wonton, seafood and Thai beef noodle soup ($8.50 to $13.50), six salads listed larb gai, yum woon sen seafood soup and som tum ($7.50 to $13.50).
For entrees, find two fried rices ($8.80), three noodle dishes ($8.50), more than a half dozen stir-fried meat/seafood dishes ($7.50 to $13.50), a choice of red, panang or yellow curry ($8.50) or swimming rama ($8.50). Most entrees come with rice and a choice of meat.
Meat choices: Beef, pork, chicken, plus tofu. Shrimp is a $1 surcharge.
Spotted: An interesting Laotian-style som tum, a shredded green papaya salad molded into a pretty mound. The cold salad carried a tangy sauce that skewed more sour than sweet with a generous boost of fish sauce. Salted crab legs added even more salty dimension. This is a must order for salt fanatics ($8.50).
Tawn Coleman, Choy’s sister, translated for her brother that the dish is one of the unusual finds on the menu along with su ki, a seafood soup with fish balls, fried garlic, vegetables and with a flavor similar to Cambodian-style hot pot ($10.80). Another unusual find is noom yen, a refreshing cold milk drink with sala cider syrup ($3).
Mussels: A huge bowl of mussels had been steamed open over a salty-sweet-tangy sauce that carried chopped scallions, a generous handful of holy basil leaves and stir-fried onions. Mussel fans, this is a must order ($13.50).
Also try: Panang curry, although the dish arrived with a plop of red curry paste abandoned in the bottom of the bowl. The dish yielded a more robust flavor after blending it into the coconut milk base ($8.50).
The grilled-pork dish moo tod gratiem was a homestyle tasting dish of quickly fried pork in a garlic and pepper sauce, a garnish of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, two scoops of rice and a tangy hot sauce (be careful, it’s volcanic-level spicy. $9.50).
Skip: Pad kee mao lacked flavor ($8.50).
Spicing: The scale runs one through five and a requested three stars tasted more like the territory of two stars. Heat seekers should ask for the condiment tray with pickled jalapenos in an astringent vinegar mixture, spicy chile sauce and a dried, ground, chile mixture.
Service: Attentive and speedy.
Parking: Bordering on nightmare. Several businesses in the strip-mall complex vie for the same spots. Like me, you might find yourself circling several times.
Where: 5013 S. 56th St., Tacoma
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays