Surely there is nothing more pleasing or satisfying in my business than the serendipitous discovery of a restaurant that one truly loves, especially because it is as rare an occurrence as a hummingbird sighting.
Last week, though, in the nether reaches of Henderson, hard by the underbelly of the 93 Freeway near Sunset Rd., I had such an experience, sort of.
I was led to pasture, but not made to drink at Penn’s Thai House, a whitewashed little place run by a single Thal lady, Penn Amarapayark, with occasional help from a Thai speaking friend who takes food orders in the dining room. And in a city chockablock with Thai restaurants, this one truly stood out. The food here is homey, generously portioned, and to a fault, glorious.
What’s more, it will come as a major surprise, given the surroundings. This is a bare bones place, with a few Thai objets d’art, white walls, and the obligatory portrait of the Thai king, Bhumipol, the world’s longest serving monarch. (The Thais love him dearly, and any word against him is punishable by imprisonment in the “Land of Smiles”.)
After a brief discussion with our server, who calls herself Pat, we settled on a menu. First to arrive at the table was the best Thai beef jerky I’ve tasted in Vegas, or maybe anywhere, what tasted like filet mignon, cut into long, this strips. This meat isn’t hard as shoe leather like most of the local competition, but rather soft, almost yielding, more like a South African biltong than an American jerky. Penn’s dipping sauce, further, dusky and fiery, made from pureed peppers, is incredible.
My host, who brought me to the restaurant, kept on about the yellow curry, which he insisted was the best he’d ever had. So we ordered it promptly, but in subsequent menu discussion with Pat, we ordered several other dishes, and she forgot to tell Penn.
Next came her tom yum, a rich chicken soup, based on coconut milk, served in one of those grandiose metal pots with a little Sterno blazing underneath. You’d better like your coconut milk if you order her tom yum. It is, at once, the richest version in town, and one or two small bowlfuls will do the job.
Then we had what for me was the piece de resistance, her chicken larb, a work of art. Larb is a northeastern Thai salad of ground meat, you choose which, rice powder, and a variety of spices and diced pepper, with onion, lime, and cabbage leaves for scooping. I can’t remember eating a better one in Thailand, a country I’ve visited eight times.
Pad kee mao followed, flat rice noodles with onion, chili, basil and tomato, plus shrimp and tofu, which we chose for the add-ons. The noodles, which Penn separates from a huge block by hand, individually, are lightly sauteed to a crispness, tender in the middle with browned edges. Need I say more.
Now I am crazy about Thai barbecued chicken, gai yang in Thai, which is traditionally eaten with sticky rice and som tam, raw green papaya salad. But no one in Vegas does it right, not even Penn. I like a yellow spice crust, bone-on, the meat flamed broiled. So it turns out that Penn’s meat is again the best I’ve tasted here. but comes up boned. I’ll call in advance, next time, and she’ll do it on the bone. Can’t wait.
Well, we were stuffed at that point, and the yellow curry never came. So we asked for the check, which we had to insist on. But things have a funny way of working out. Just as we were at the point of leaving, a friend showed up, and ordered the yellow curry.
I’ll tell you more about it next time, after I’ve come back for the barbecued chicken on the bone, the sticky rice, the som tam, and a few other dishes I’ll order in advance.
At 724 W. Sunset Rd. 564-0162.
editor’s note: Penn’s Thai House is in the same plaza as the Pop Up Art House (PUAH). PUAH has been in the press lately as one of the best new galleries in the Las Vegas-Henderson Area. The yellow curry base, incidentally, is completely prepared by hand.
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