The first Thai food I ever had in Orlando was at the Oriental Market on Edgewater Drive several years ago. It was mostly a specialty shop with huge bags of jasmine rice; those long, light-purple eggplants, and boxes of lotus root and galangal. There were things that even a sophisticated city boy such as myself was puzzled by, like sapota and Chinese matrimonial tea, makok and perilla leaves. And they had what is still my favorite -- cans of sweet gelatinous mutant coconut balls.
Squeezed on one side of the room were a few tables where you could sit and have terrific pad thai, and spring rolls wrapped in transparent rice noodles. Apparently, the restaurant business was doing better than the grocery because -- not long after my introduction -- the market moved next door. The owners sold it to focus solely on serving the dishes of Thailand, a cuisine that is said to be 1,000 years older than Chinese food.
Not much has changed since the restaurant took over; there is a panel of color around the room and a few pictures of Thailand on the walls. While everyone is pleasant, there are no waitresses dressed in mudmee sarongs to greet you: This is a place to sit down and eat. And since the restaurant changed hands in January, the dishes may be different than you've become familiar with, now leaning toward the flavors of Isan, in northeastern Thailand.
Appetizers like som tam, a shredded papaya salad ($5.99), and gai yang, barbecued chicken in a chili sauce ($2.99), are very typical of this style, which tends to be casual and served quickly -- something of a Thai fast food. And fast it is. We ordered rice-noodle spring rolls ($1.99 for two) and pad thai ($5.99) for old times' sake, and they appeared before we could even get the cream stirred in our iced tea. The pad thai is drenched in lime, a little sweet and a little spicy -- very good.
Entrees migrate from other parts of Thailand as well. There are more familiar central dishes, such as chicken or seafood pad kaprao -- stir-fried with basil leaves and green curries ($6.99-$7.99). You also can get hotter, potentially dangerous Southern fare, with a particularly good example being the musaman gai ($6.99), which literally means "Muslim curry" (an influence from Indonesia). It's a complicated mixture of chilis, garlic, lemon grass, peanut sauce and coconut milk that accomplishes the goal of Thai food -- bitter, sour, salty and sweet all at once.
If you go to restaurants for the food and not the surroundings, try Thai Cuisine.
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