I first tried Thai food many years ago with a restaurateur friend at Thai Palace Downtown. Years later, I would venture out to the old The King and I on a date (back when tables a mere elbow distance apart were a dating novelty), and EE-Sane in more recent years for simple favorites like Pud Thai and volcano chicken.
As a general rule over the years, I have avoided Thai restaurants, and for that matter, most restaurants, that reside in strip malls. But in the last year I have discovered two excellent Thai restaurants in such locations, one in Mequon called Bang Thai Cuisine, and my personal favorite, Bangkok House Restaurant, 4698 S. Whitnall Ave., St. Francis.
Walking across the parking lot and through the doorway of the Whitnall Square Shopping Center immediately catapults you into a completely different environment. Bangkok House is tastefully decorated with the lovely textiles and metallurgy for which Thailand is renowned and the tables are swathed in white linen. The atmosphere is fresh and clean, and service here is friendly and precise.
The lunch buffet at Bangkok House is likely the best deal in the Milwaukee area, and its steady popularity ensures that the food is always fresh and delicious. For only $7.95, you can select from homemade soups, appetizers, fried rice and popular Thai entrees. The buffet is consistent and food items always taste newly prepared, with daily variations in selections. The lunch menu is extensive and reasonable (all options fall below $9), and service here is prompt enough that a quick business lunch hour is easily within reach.
Dinner selections offer a great variety of traditional Thai entrees, curry and noodle dishes, and seafood options, often garnished with lovely green sprigs of fresh Thai basil.
Our most recent visit to Bangkok House was one of the most enjoyable Thai meals I've had in my lifetime. We started with the fresh steamed spring rolls ($5.95), and while this article belabors "fresh," I am pressed to find a better adjective to better describe the flavors and foods at Bangkok House. All of the vegetables and herbs in the food we sampled carried the clean, light taste of good quality ingredients prepared simply and carefully to allow their natural flavors to come through, and the spring rolls showcased this simple elegance.
Crab rangoons ($5.95) were delectably crunchy on the outside and rich and creamy within -- likely the best version I have sampled anywhere -- and the plum sauce that accompanied them made for an even sweeter, richer dish with the pairing of the crabmeat, cheese and fruit syrup simply charming.
An entrée of volcano chicken ($12.95) was amazing in flavors and texture, with just enough volcano sauce to make the chicken sing while retaining its crunch. And unlike other versions of this dish I've tried that pair breaded chicken with a bed of cabbages and carrots, I didn't need a knife to cut the chicken; the tender pieces fell apart under the simple weight of my fork.
Shrimp Pud Prig Pow ($14.95), with sautéed shrimp in a bath of coconut milk, chili paste and garlic with baby corn, bell peppers and Thai basil impressed us as well, with the perfectly pink shrimp just spicy enough to balance the sweet creaminess of the coconut milk and basil.
Service at Bangkok House made the experience even more enjoyable, as our waitress attentively not only filled our water glasses and wine, but also plated our rice for us as we neared the end of each serving, and we never wanted for anything at all. Bangkok House has certainly changed my perception of restaurants in strip malls, and moreover, my expectations of Thai restaurants in general-as I have a greater appreciation for exactly how phenomenal a Thai restaurant can be.
Bangkok House is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant offers carryout options with call-ahead service.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.