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Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012

Thai Bar-B-Que Deservedly Popular

Enjoy tasty food from Issan, Laos

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Thai Bar-B-Que is one of the best Thai restaurants in the area, with a menu featuring items from Issan and Laos. Issan, also spelled Isan, is the northeast region of Thailand, adjacent to the border of Laos. Issan is known for serving the spiciest food in all of Thailand.

A photograph accompanies every item on the menu, which is extensive. There are more than 100 items to choose from—even more, actually, when you consider the different meat and vegetarian options that are available. The décor is not fancy, but it suits the food well, with gilded Thai woodcarvings and a collection of wooden dolls in traditional costume. A flat-panel television often shows Thai music videos.

When selecting a starter, skip past the usual fresh rolls, spring rolls, crispy shrimp and crab Rangoon. Instead, try the Issan sausage ($6.99), small, round sausages that fill the plate. They have a unique flavor that is hard to describe: a little bit of heat—gentle, not the explosive heat of some Issan food—and a slight tartness.

Thai Bar-B-Que really excels in the meat and seafood salads. Larb ($7.99) is the classic salad of Laos. Here, the meat choices are chicken, pork, beef or shrimp. The first three are the most appropriate to order. The beef larb, with the beef barely cooked, will include tripe unless otherwise requested. Accompanying the dish is roasted rice powder with lime juice, mint, cilantro and, of course, hot red chile peppers. This is the type of food you would find at the many restaurants of Luang Prabang, Laos.

There are two salads of raw green papaya. One is Thai style ($6.99) and the other Laos ($5.99). The Thai has shredded papaya with tomato, ground peanuts and tiny dried shrimp. The dressing combines fish sauce with palm sugar. The fresh hot peppers add authenticity to this dish, making it very spicy. The Laos style, which also includes tomato, adds long bean, which tastes just like an ordinary green bean. The dressing is less sweet and more pungent, especially if the optional salty crab ($1) is added.

Outside of the curries, most of the remaining dishes are on the mild side. There is Thai barbecue duck ($12.99), which is roasted and served in pieces with the bone in. It is not spicy at all. Goong ob woonsen ($10.99) is clear cellophane noodles and an impressive amount of jumbo shrimp with sweet bell pepper and baby corn. The chef's special sauce is mild.

Soups are served in starter portions ($2.99-$3.99) or as hot pots ($7.99-$12.99). Thai standards like tom yum and tom kha are all here. Pho-tak is a soup of mixed seafood that includes squid, mussel, shrimp and imitation crab. In addition to the seafood, the bowl is filled with straw mushrooms, lime juice, fresh tomato and sprigs of cilantro. Lemon grass adds an extra hint of citrus flavor.

It will require several visits to get a decent feel for the menu. For example, the menu offers more than 25 different noodle soups and pan-fried noodle entrees.

The decent beer list includes Beer Lao and Thai options such as Singha and Chang.

Do not be in a rush when dining here. You may have to wait a bit, but the food is prepared as it is ordered. It's one reason why Thai Bar-B-Que, now in its sixth year of operation, remains deservedly popular.

Thai Bar-B-Que

3417 W. National Ave.

(414) 647-0812

$$

www.thaibarbq.com