Since my early trips to Vegas, “Lotus of Siam” appeared in the results of all of my Google searches for best restaurants in Las Vegas. In fact, it has been hailed as the “single best Thai restaurant in North America,” first by the now defunct Gourmet magazine in the early 2000s and repeated by countless food bloggers since. It seemed plausible enough. Master Chef Saipin Chatima was nominated for the James Beard Award as Best Chef in the Southwest three times, winning the award in 2011. The brazen proclamation caught my eye, but one mental hurdle stood in my way from an earlier visit. Thai was one of the last cuisines I thought about eating when visiting Vegas. I flat out questioned its authenticity. What do Las Vegans know about Thai food? I mean, how many Thais actually live in Clark County?*
On my most recent business trip to Las Vegas, I realized that I would be dining alone after my final work meeting of the week. This was the perfect opportunity to visit Lotus of Siam. I did not have reservations, so I made it a point to get there right when it opened. The hostess greeted me right away and placed on a list, even though there were dozens of open tables. She politely asked me to take a seat in a plush waiting area, while waiting for name to be called. My cell phone was at 32 percent, and I needed to save that power for killer food pics, so I just sat there flashing courtesy smiles and nods to the many Lotus staff briskly walking to and from the kitchen area. They all seemed to be in their early to mid-20s, upbeat, and every one of them was wearing earpieces with microphones a la Bobby Brown in My Prerogative. Five minutes later, someone called my name and ushered me to my white-clothed table. The décor was fancy but the vibe never felt pretentious. Other diners’ attire varied from shorts and t-shirts to dresses reserved for special occasions.
The service was super attentive, and every single staff member was friendly. Five different Lotus workers checked on me before, during, and after my meal. As a single diner, taking pictures of my food and scrolling through your phone can only get you so far. Those who do not like to be bothered while eating may find this intrusive and excessive, but I found it to be a nice touch. It was during these interactions that I realized what the earpieces and microphones were for – to coordinate with one another on making sure everybody was tended to. It was like a football team constantly communicating to make sure everybody is in the right position and plays are run to perfection. At times, the staff with the headsets gave off a “VIP club” vibe, but I can imagine how this maintains efficiency during the busier times.
I had studied the menu ahead of time and used the hard copy to reinforce what I had predetermined to be my meal. There were many more choices than I was accustomed to seeing in a Thai restaurant menu, and it included intriguing categories such as “Northern,” which they describe as being milder and influenced by bordering countries such as Myanmar and Laos, “Chef’s Choice,” and “Specials.” I had made up my mind that I was going to pick dishes from these parts of the menu, as they were dishes that were not available at any of the Thai restaurants I had tried previously. I ordered the Koong Char Num Plar, Crispy Duck with Panang, Thai Coffee, and iced water.
The Koong Char Num Plar, described as “Raw prawns marinated in seasoned fish sauce, served with homemade tangy and spicy fish sauce, fresh garlic slices, and roasted chili paste,” was the best choice for a starting dish I could have made. Raw food is a major draw for me. It is inherently riskier than other dishes and therefore has to be prepared with more care and attention to detail. Once I got my meal, two separate staff members offered to teach me how to eat the meal, which was presented as segregated pieces of raw shrimp, whole mint leaves, thin slices of raw garlic, and two sauces. To eat a bite, I used the mint leaf as the medium to hold the other ingredients.
No exaggeration, this was one of the best single bites I’ve ever had in my life (See Best of Lists, West Region). Joyfully stunned, I mouthed the words “What the f*** is this?” as I constructed the second bite. In addition to being salty, sweet, and savory, this dish offered textural diversity with the fibrous mint leaves, firm garlic slices, fleshy shrimp, jam-like chili paste, and runny fish sauce. Comparing this dish to something I get from my local Thai restaurant is not a fair fight. This dish alone was enough for me to fully understand the lofty superlatives garnering the restaurant.
Vibrant pictures posted by diners foodie sites, along with the repeated phrase “favorite dish on the menu” combined with my fond memories of crispy duck really drove me to choose the Crispy Duck with Panang. Described in the menu as “crispy duck topped with Thai style red cream curry sauce with cognac,” this was also memorable, but for different reasons. The dish connected two tastes very familiar to me – duck and panang curry – but never combined. The duck was cooked perfectly, with the wafer thin, crispy skin connected to the thick, juicy dark meat by a luscious layer of fat. The duck was cut into six pieces and immersed in the bright orange panang curry, the flavor of which was deeper than I had ever experienced. I am guessing the “gnac” put the sauce over the top.
I washed my meal down with desert tap water and then Thai Coffee, which I am embarrassed to admit, I have never had before. I have had gallons of Thai Tea in my life, but no Thai Coffee. The serotonin and good vibes from the meal may have been an influence, but I walked away with a preference for Thai Coffee over Thai Tea.
Conclusion and Rating
I graciously bow to Master Chef Saipin Chatima. Lotus of Siam is truly something special. Do not be an idiot like me and wait years to visit. You will thank me later.
*Quite a lot. According to the latest U.S. Census information, there are more than 4,200 individuals of Thai descent living in Clark County, which is third most of any area in the United States. It is dwarfed by Los Angeles, which has Los Angeles, California has the largest Thai population outside of Asia (80,000) but is within a short commute to Las Vegas.
LOTUS OF SIAM INFORMATION
OTHER LAS VEGAS CONTENT