Friday, January 20, 2012

Phat Thai - Pad Thai with Prawns

If you had to name one dish that is on the menu of virtually every Thai restaurant in America, it would have to be Pad Thai. The stir-fried noodle dish is so popular, in fact, that it's even become one of Thailand's national dishes. Since it's such a staple and well-known food, it can be difficult for chefs to prepare a unique and stand-out version. The folks over at Phat Thai, however, managed to do just that!

Making its first appearance in the latter half of 2011, Phat Thai is a relative newcomer to the San Francisco food truck scene. It's a family owned truck run by chef Wannee Hossain and her two sons, Bobby and Alom. Prior to the truck, they ran a restaurant called Rama Thai, located in the Inner Richmond. Their menu ranges from their signature dishes (like the Pad Thai) to more outrageous creations like the Phat Fries: french fries tossed with a sweet and sour sauce and topped with basil.

When it rains I often feel bad for food truck vendors because it has to drastically reduce the number of customers who would ordinarily flock to their locations. The city's recent wave of frigid temperatures can't help matters, either! It was a relatively calm night on Thursday, with just a handful of people adorned in mittens and hats, milling around under tents at Off the Grid in an effort to escape the drizzle. There was no line for Phat Thai, and I was excited to pay them a first-time visit.

I adore Thai food, and one of my particular favorites is green curry, but if it's the first time I am trying a new place I always have to get the Pad Thai. For me, it's the dish that defines the restaurant. Maybe my assumption is incorrect, but I find that if the Pad Thai is great, then everything else is, too. So there was no question that for my first time visiting Phat Thai I would have to order the dish listed first on their menu. The cold and damp night almost caused me to also order a Tom Yum soup to go along with my Pad Thai, but I restrained myself to just the main dish. It was a good thing, however, because my container of noodles was huge!

The crew working the truck was super friendly and very fast, and I only had to wait a few minutes before I was handed a take-away container that I almost dropped due to the surprising weight. When I opened it up it was jammed packed with such a bright and colorful dish that I couldn't wait to dig in and take my first bite. It looked so unlike any other Pad Thai that I have had before; it was brimming with carrots, broccoli and cilantro. I ordered mine with prawns (other options include chicken, beef or vegetarian) and it came with five grilled beauties—two more prawns than what I find is typically served with this signature dish. There was also a copious amount of tofu sprinkled throughout the noodles. Already I was happy before I even had a chance to taste it.

With just one bite of the chewy, sweet noodles I knew this was Pad Thai like no other. I loved the bold flavor of lime, and the mix of veggies which are not traditionally seen on Pad Thai really made it stand out. The broccoli and carrots added a unique twist, but it worked with the other components; they weren't just tossed in as an afterthought or to make the Pad Thai seem overly quirky. The tofu was on the  firm side, with a texture similar to what's achieved through braising. The noodles, though mildly stuck together were not soft or mushy, but instead pleasantly chewy. A giant helping of roasted peanuts sat in the corner next to a wedge of lime. Fresh crisp bean sprouts, onions and egg finished it off. And did I mention that the portion was huge?

I liked it so much that I devoured my entire Pad Thai, stopping only to offer my son some carrots, which he recently declared to be his favorite food. He gives Phat Thai the nod of approval, too! I enjoyed the fresh, vibrant flavors of the homemade Pad Thai sauce, appreciating that it wasn't overly sweet or unduly salty. In many cases, Pad Thai is heavy on the sprouts, but here there was just the right amount to add a bit of crunch to compliment the noodles. I only wish that I had a bigger vessel in which to eat my Pad Thai, as it was a bit hard to stir everything together since there was so much of it. By the time I finished I was very well satiated, and I was glad I didn't go overboard by ordering the soup as well. However, I can't wait to go back and try something else off the menu. I have my eye on the Phat Wings, Tom Kha Gai Soup and of course, the green curry.

It's been a few weeks since I have ventured out to the food trucks, with Christmas and New Year's usurping most of my time, but I am very happy that I was able to try Phat Thai as my first truck of 2012. If my assumption of Pad Thai holds true, than I fully expect every other dish on their menu to be just as delightful, and I look forward to trying them all!

Rating: 4.5/5 (ratings guide)

Phat Thai (@phatthaisf) $7.00 for Pad Thai with beef, chicken or veggies (add $2.00 for prawns)

Does reading this make you want to try this vendor? Tell them that you saw them at I Left My Cart in San Francisco and support San Francisco street cuisine!

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