Ever since Le Thai opened in downtown Las Vegas, people have been positively raving to me about the food.
Yeah, I'm not going to do that.
It's not that I didn't like the food, but more on that later. It's that I think what's most important about Le Thai is that it's absolutely perfect for downtown Las Vegas. And I mean that in only the best way.
Le Thai is a tiny place. Yes, downtown is full of tiny places, but Le Thai gives the word new perspective, with but a handful of tables in the somewhat cramped interior. The restaurant's saving grace is an expansive outdoor space over which hovers a large pergola constructed of heavy beams and equipped with a truly effective misting system that makes dining outdoors on these blast-furnace evenings not only bearable but pleasant. Teak-topped tables and flexing synthetic-wicker chairs add to the comfort level, and corrugated-metal walls to the vaguely industrial feel. I went there straight from the office and liked the surroundings just fine, but Le Thai is open until midnight on weeknights, 2 a.m. on weekends, and it would be even more comfortable later in the evening.
Open until 2? See what I mean about Le Thai being perfect for downtown? It's in the Fremont East district, where a number of funky bars and related businesses have opened within the past five years or so. Some combination of dinner at Le Thai and music and drinks at one of the nearby clubs would be a truly enjoyable evening, especially for the 20-somethings that we're relying on to add their considerable energy to this once-fading district.
And Le Thai knows its market, or markets. When we arrived early on a weeknight Ziggy Marley was the artist of choice, no doubt because of reggae's place in the hearts of the older generation. As we dawdled, however, and the after-work suits drifted out and the tatted-and-T-shirts wandered in, the soundtrack became the '80s dance music of Stacie Q. and Sheila E. Another hour or so, and it no doubt would've turned to Gaga & Co.
Service throughout was in keeping with the general atmosphere, which is to say fairly casual, though pleasant and efficient. Menus are on table tents, for example, and wine served in plastic cups, although they're the best plastic we could possibly imagine, about 100 steps up from a red Solo cup.
But on to the food. You know what was our favorite? Dessert. The fried bananas advertised on a blackboard were off, but we were somehow tempted by two differing descriptions of the house dessert. The receipt called it roti ($5), but it was unlike any roti we've had in South Asian restaurants. Well, it did bear some resemblance in that it was a thinnish pancake of sorts, but then it had been spread with Nutella and topped with a slightly sweet omelet. And it was much better than either description or the sum of its parts.
The other dishes we sampled are commonly found on Thai menus all over town. We'd started with pork jerky ($8), as recommended by a friend, and found it very appealing, the tender pork cubes fried and well-seasoned, the waterfall sauce pleasingly pungent, although the sticky rice was a little on the dry side. Three Color Curry ($11 with chicken, beef, pork or tofu, or $13 with shrimp) was a deft balance of earthy and spicy, and enlivened by plentiful strips of daikon and carrot and basil.
Thai fried rice ($9, or $11 with shrimp) also had a generous component of fresh vegetables, adding color as well as texture and flavor to what would otherwise have been a mundane dish.
So yes, Le Thai has good food, but that's not what makes it stand out from the crowd. Le Thai is perfect for downtown, perfect for this point in the life of our fabulous city, and we hope it's only a portent of more to come.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.