Fit to be Thai

White Center's Thai Thai is one of the best buys in town. Hardly anyone drives to White Center to eat, unless they happen to live there. One of the reasons is that the main drag, 16th Avenue, is truly a drag. The street is broken into weird angles by random intersections, it's hard to tellwho has the right of way, and this is not the kind of place where you'd want to argue the point. Thai Thai 11205 16th SW, 246-2246

lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat

major credit cards, checks But you will drive there for Thai Thai. Housed in a whitewashed building that once was a KFC, this venerable Thai-Chinese joint has been holding forth in a no man's land between no man's lands, Burien and West Seattle, for more than a decade. When a restaurant endures so long so far off the beaten path, you have to assume—and rightly so—it's because of the food. It's definitely not the ambiance. Kitschy is a generous way to describe the Thai tourism posters, the candy-color bead lamps, and the random furniture, some of it chain-restaurant blah, the rest of it—massive tables and chairs of solid rosewood—downright primeval. Another reason for Thai Thai's longevity: good portions at fire-sale prices. The most expensive dish is $9.50, most average out at $6. "We're too cheap," admits owner Sam Sudthaya. Even accounting for the 50-cent hike he's planned for later this year and the gas you'll use to get there, Thai Thai remains one of the best buys in town. There's nothing too thoughtful or precious about the home-style Thai food served here. Soups ($4-$8) will make you sweat. Heavy doses of lemongrass, galanga, and kaffir lime leaves flavor five of the six options. Tom yum versions don't contain coconut milk, tom kah soups do. The latter makes for a less fiery slurp, because the oiliness of coconut smoothes over the hot and sour bumpiness of the various spices and herbs. The floating pieces of chicken or shrimp are always tender and perfectly cooked. Regulars come from as far away as Issaquah, Kent, and Federal Way, Sam says, because he serves the "same good food." He explains, "My wife, Orawan, does the cooking. Her sister cooks, too. That's why we are very steady." Translation: The same cooks have been cooking every night except Sunday for the past 12 years. This sure hand shows up in the phad Thai ($5.50), easily one of the most mistreated noodle dishes in town. Thai Thai's version is addicting—so much so that I've ordered it every time. And I've been there many times. Why is it so easy to eat? The secret, Sam reluctantly admits, is "a little bit of preserved radish" and the omission of fish sauce, "so it's not so smelly." Though it's pan-fried, hardly a drop of grease mars the slippery rice noodles, which are fortified with dried tofu, bits of egg, ground peanuts, green onion, beans sprouts, and your choice of chicken, pork, beef, or prawns ($5-$6). These noodles reincarnate beautifully in the microwave. Certain dishes are perennial customer favorites: Angel Wings ($5.50), boneless chicken wings stuffed with ground pork and bean thread to be dipped into plum sauce; larb gai ($5.75), ground chicken salad flavored with mint, red onion, cilantro, and spicy lime sauce; and yum neau ($5.75), strips of flank steak dressed with lemongrass, onion, hot pepper, mint, and yet more of that spicy lime sauce. The panang curry is another dish I can't stop ordering: It's a normal red curry turned supernatural with kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, hot pepper, and basil. Smooth one second, fiery the next. He's not a boasting man, but Sam knows that Thai Thai serves the best peanut sauce in town. "Everything in it is made from scratch. The peanuts are ground; we don't use peanut butter." The sauce is displayed at its finest in the Bathing Rama ($6), lightly saut饤 spinach. A related dish, gang mussaman ($5.50), is a beef curry made with peanut sauce, coconut milk, onion, and potato. This labor-intensive curry isn't available in most Thai restaurants; Sam's version is hearty and deliciously nutty. Chances are you'll be overwhelmed by the 100-plus items on the menu, so treat yourself to a combination dinner. An option available to parties of two or more, the combos offer a four- to six- course round-up of Thai Thai's greatest hits: appetizer, soup, and various entr饳. At $10 or $11.25 per person, it'll be one of the less painful decisions you ever make in a restaurant.

 
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