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Dining

All Thai’d up at Sakun

There’s tough competition here, sure, but make room for scrumptious Sakun

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Sakun Thai’s crispy catfish
Photo: Beverly Poppe

Vegas isn’t ahead of the curve when it comes to Asian restaurants, but when we are talking Thai cuisine, things are different. Perhaps it’s the influence of Lotus of Siam, which offers regional Thai dishes, or perhaps it’s our large Thai population. Either way, we have become a reliable town for down-home Thai cooking.

Take Sakun Thai, a modest storefront run by a Thai woman named Gina and her chef boyfriend. The restaurant isn’t new: In fact, my wife has been getting takeout here for years, mainly the spicy beef ball soup. Sometime this year, we discovered it had a bilingual Thai menu, filled with wondrous fare like beef salad Lao-style; steamed glass noodles with crab claw; and Thai pork stew. Now, we’re regulars.

You won’t be overwhelmed by the decor. It’s small, simple and claustrophobic. At lunch, when the 10-table room usually fills up, the kitchen can be rather slow, so think twice about coming here if you are in a hurry. But as with most of our better Thai restaurants, that’s a good sign. Real Thai dishes are slow food, as opposed to those Chinese Thai dishes cooked in a wok.

Restaurant Guide

Sakun Thai
Three and a half stars
1725 E. Warm Springs Road
617-3556.
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 3:30-9:30 p.m.
Suggested dishes: Thai barbecued chicken, $8.95; beef salad Lao-style, $7.95; crispy catfish with green beans, $10.95; glass noodles steamed with crab claw, $13.95.
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I’d advise you to look over the specials board above the cash register before you open the regular or Thai menus here. Because there is always gai yang, aka Thai barbecued chicken, on it, and it happens to be the city’s best version of this dish. (There is pork egg foo yong up there, too, for those with boomer cravings.)

Sakun’s chicken is served on the bone, crusted with yellow spices, fall-apart tender. It’s on the spicy side, but it’s not spicy enough to cause a fire. Eat it with sticky rice, served in a bamboo basket, and use the sugary, red dipping sauce sparingly. If you want to eat like the Thais, order papaya salad Lao-style, made with salted crab and eaten in the hollow of cabbage leaves, from the Thai menu, as an accompaniment.

The regular menu shouldn’t be ignored. It includes a $6.50 lunch special, which offers a tasty house soup, egg roll, a chicken wing and a choice of brown, white or fried rice to go with dishes such as pad Thai, curry chicken or mixed vegetables with tofu.

It’s also where you’ll find old chestnuts such as stuffed chicken wing, kee mau noodle and satay, all well prepared. But as with most local Thai restaurants, the menu has lots of Chinese-influenced stir-fry dishes, and while they are tasty, they are not the reason I go to a Thai restaurant.

No, the Thai menu is my raison d’etre at this joint. I’m still dreaming about those glass noodles, presented steaming hot in a metal cauldron, laced with six or seven partially shelled crab claws, redolent of Thai spices. What sets beef salad Lao-style apart from a more conventional Thai beef salad? The beef is rolled in rice crumbs, which gives it body, all the better to absorb those chilies.

One of my favorite dishes from Sakun’s Thai menu is crispy catfish with fried green bean, but it’s not what the words lead you to expect. The fish comes in small, crisp nuggets coated with spicy red sauce, rather than in large, filleted pieces. It’s one of those dishes that would be unthinkable without rice. But with the fragrant Thai Jasmine rice served here, it turns into a virtual feast.

Some of the dishes are acquired tastes. Anything that uses shrimp paste—purple stuff with a pungent aftertaste—for instance, might fall into that category. I liked the fried rice with shrimp paste, but I was the only one at my table of four who did. Perhaps you’d be better off choosing the green-curry fried rice, if you can stand the heat, or the crab fried rice, if you can’t.

Other choices from the Thai menu include Thai eggplant salad, moo bing—or four giant skewers of char-grilled pork, served with spicy dipping sauce—and tod mun, house-made Thai fish cakes, eaten with crushed peanut and sliced cucumber.

So, I have let the cat out of the bag, and my wife is annoyed. When she wants that beef ball soup, she’s just going to have to wait a bit longer.

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