Lotus of Siam Restaurant, Las Vegas

Posted on
Jul 16, 2012

My favorite thing about travel is that you can often discover the most amazing meals in the most unexpected of places.

And I don’t mean the discovery of a candied peanut at the bottom of my bag in a hotel room in Bulgaria. (For the record, Rand wouldn’t let me eat the peanut, which I was able to trace back to an earlier trip London. I am still a bit peeved about that).

No. I’m talking about truly fantastic meals.

I’ve noshed on really good Bosnian food in Astoria, Oregon. Dined on excellent Caribbean cuisine north of 110th street in New York. I’ve even broken my rule about not eating sushi in a landlocked state, and had some truly decent sashimi in Colorado.

So I wasn’t all that surprised when my cousin told me that the best Thai restaurant in the U.S. is in a tiny strip mall in downtown Las Vegas, far from the casinos and bright lights of the strip. Life is full of culinary surprises.

The restaurant is called Lotus of Siam, and there is absolutely no way we’d have stumbled upon it, or thought to stop in, unless we’d been told specifically to go. We nearly drove right passed it, but thanks to GPS and some specious driving tactics, we made it there.

The restaurant is spacious, the lighting terrible, the air conditioning aggressive. We arrived a little after noon and had to wait for a short time before being seated.

The lunchtime buffet didn’t look too interesting, so we ordered three dishes off the menu instead. This was my favorite – it is called Nam-Prik-Ong, or the red chili dip.

Since eating this dish, I’ve found myself craving it weekly. Consider yourself warned.

Don’t let the name mislead you: it isn’t inedibly spicy. The dip is a rich, tangy ragu of ground pork, tomatoes, and spices. It comes served with crisp vegetables and pork rinds.

The cabbage, cucumber, and the rinds were my favorites vehicles which which to deliver the dip to my mouth. And when we exhausted our supply of vegetables and other dippables? We just went in with our forks. I regret nothing.

Just so we’re clear, I used a PORK RIND to deliver more PORK to my mouth. PORK PORK PORK.

The next dish to come out was beef curry with noodles. I can’t precisely find it on the menu, but if you ask, I’m sure the staff can decipher which entree you’re talking about. It has crispy and soft egg noodles, and the sauce is unctuous and rich without being too heavy or too sweet (my biggest objection to most curries). My only complaint was that it arrived at the table a little colder than I would have liked, and the staff was kind of overwhelmed, so we couldn’t snag anyone and get them to reheat it.

We took the waiter’s suggestion and order at Yum Kai salad for balance, and while it turned out to be my least favorite dish of the meal, it wasn’t bad. The chicken was surprisingly tender and moist, but I had hoped for something more veggie-based.

The Yum Kai felt less welcoming and more phoned-in than the other dishes.

Lotus of Siam is definitely good. I don’t know about the best Thai food in the U.S. – I haven’t eaten at every Thai restaurant in the nation (but as far as life goals go, that’s a good one), so I can’t definitively say.

And personally, I actually think that Pok Pok might be better. But the thing is, Pok Pok is in Portland – where you expect to find wonderful food. Lotus of Siam is in a frigging STRIP MALL. And save for this shining beacon of culinary excellence, there’s little else going on there. Perhaps that’s why the place is so fantastic. Because of the element of surprise. Because no one saw it coming.

OMG IT’S THE BATMAN OF RESTAURANTS.

I am the bat.

I enjoyed it for other reasons, too. The place feels so radically different from anything you’d find on the strip. It’s a little rundown and poorly lit. My menu was slightly sticky, and the dishes were mismatched. The waiter was knowledgeable and overworked and didn’t have immaculate hair.

The lack of pretension was palpable. Lotus of Siam is honest and direct, and their message is clear: This is our restaurant. This is our food. It’s really, really good, and you won’t have a minor coronary when you see the bill.

They do have an entire wall covered in awards and news coverage, but still, it feels humble. (Parenthetically, my husband is a total goober.)

Yes, it’s crowded, but most of the folks eating there are Vegas locals. Few tourists venture out that far. At tables adjacent to us we saw people on their lunch breaks, including an entire table of police officers.

Regular people, eating lunch. In Vegas.

Like I said, it was completely unexpected. And while it might not be the best Thai restaurant in the U.S., it could easily be the best one in Vegas. It’s certainly the most honest. And after enough time on the strip, after enough days weaving through fake tans and fake boobs and fake blue skies, a little bit of dingy sincerity is a rare and wonderful thing indeed.

And one other thing I’ve found to be rare and wonderful.

—————

Tips of visiting Lotus of Siam:

Reservations for dinner are highly recommended. They don’t take reservations for lunch, so you’re far more likely to get a seat, but you might have to wait a little while for it (and they don’t serve lunch on weekends). Take a cab or a rental car, and exercise a bit of caution, as the restaurant is not (according to one person we spoke to) in the best part of town. They’ve got a good selection of Northern Thai delicacies, which are far different from what you’ll find at many Thai restaurants, and definitely worth a try. The wine selection is supposedly excellent, but we didn’t partake.

Leave a Comment

  • Mandy

    The best Thai restaurant I’ve ever ate at is the Bangkok House in a strip mall in Myrtle Beach, SC. And that’s saying a lot, since I’ve been to Thailand twice.

  • Joy

    This sounds wonderful! I’ll have to pass this along to my foodie friend who lives in Vegas.

    Just an observation, but I think Steve was suppressing your vocabulary. Your use of “big words” has increased exponentially since Steve got the boot. Steve sucked, glad he’s gone!

  • The beef curry with noodles is khao soi. I’m in Bangkok right now and I just ate that for dinner. It’s my favorite.

  • I’m sad that you didn’t have the overwhelmingly amazing experience that is LoS! I haven’t been in 4 years, and things I ate their (hello, duck drunken noodles). I was far more blown away by LoS than Pok Pok (though admittedly, I’m mystified as to how Pok Pok manages to SMELL just like Thailand!), but the real amazing thing about LoS is that they have dishes that are regular in Thailand but difficult to find anything above mediocre versions in much of the country (see Issan Sausage).

    And to change my super whiny comment to being of some value/help, if I had to wager a guess, I’d say that your noodle soup was some type of Kao Soi? I’ve never had it with beef (chicken was mostly what we saw in Thailand), but no reason it couldn’t be made with beef.

  • Amy

    I JUST left Vegas yesterday! Had I known about Lotus of Siam, I would’ve checked it out. I’m a sucker for Pad Thai. I did check out The Mob Museum after reading your post about it though. I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to shoot at people in the “Weapons Training Simulation”….

  • Lauren

    I wasn’t blown away by LoS either. Perhaps we need to dine there with Gastrognome sometime? I was however blown away by Raku. You should try it when you’re there next. It’s also in a strip mall! http://www.raku-grill.com/

  • My biggest regret when visiting Vegas two years ago… not eating at LoS more than once. My wife and I LOVED their food AND PRICES. I can’t even remember what we had now., but it was excellent.

    If you’re ever in the Chicago area… try Big Bowl for some nice Thai food as well. http://www.bigbowl.com/

  • I’m really impressed that you used “specious” and “spacious” within two sentences (nod of approval).

  • I have to agree that Pok Pok is better, but Lotus would certainly rank #2 or #3 on my list of best Thai restaurants we’ve ever tried. You go in with low expectations, and come out shocked. I only wish Vegas had more of this and less of all the stuff it’s known for.

  • Joyce

    Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”… Ming Tsai’s acclaimed pick on the Vegas feature was the Nam-Prik-Ong at the Lotus of Siam 🙂

  • Yum looks awesome. Will have to go and try it when I eventually get to Vegas one day

  • Bri

    I was actually thinking that the Indian place next door looked pretty tasty as well! Incidentally, if you’re ever in San Diego and craving the best Indian of your life, find KC’s Tandoor. Heaven. The only place that ever topped it was Krishna’s…in Okinawa, Japan…a little far to go for dinner.

  • Camille

    I must know of this mythical sushi restaurant in Colorado you speak of! I am a transplant from the East coast to this landlocked state, and thus far have not eaten any sushi here that I didn’t imediately regret…

  • Laura

    Ooh, next time you’re in town, you should try Raku. It’s not Thai (it’s Japanese), but it’s another one of those hidden, off-Strip gems that tourists rarely venture to, despite the amazing food. Some of Vegas’ best restaurants are tucked away in nondescript strip malls…

    • christine

      Oooh, i just moved out here to Vegas in early June so I would LOVE to hear some great restaurant recommendations! LoS has been noted and is now on the list of places to get to asap but I’d appreciate more!!

  • Two things.

    1. Of course Pok Pok is better. Duh. (Related: Guess where we’ll go next time you’re in town?)

    2. I ate at Lotus of Siam on a Vegas trip many moons ago; it was a stop arranged by the woman who knows all things Vegas, Jen Leo, and it was truly an unexpected delight. Of course, I generally dislike Vegas, so anything in Vegas that is decidedly un-Vegas-y gets my vote.

  • Recently came upon your site and thanks for writing such an awesome blog!
    I moved from NY to Vegas last year and I have to say the food in Vegas is not bad at all.
    In terms of Asian food next time you’re in Vegas I would definitely recommend Asian BBQ & Noodles on Jones between Desert Inn and Spring Mountain. A hole in the wall with really awesome roast duck and roast pork.
    And Yaygu has the most amazing BBQ meat (order the prime) ever.
    I can go on and on but you guys definitely went to some good spots.

    • christine

      I just moved out to Vegas myself and would LOVE to hear some more recommendations (see my reply above to “Laura”)! I’m always hungry and i love to eat out – but the sheer number of restaurants here makes it very overwhelming and damn near impossible to pick! 🙂

  • sonalipdx

    pok pok is always better! my neighbor works there and sometime brings home wings and leaves them outside my door … the best surprise EVER!!

  • sonalipdx

    by the way, i’ve recently stumbled across your blog and think it’s fabulous!

  • Rick

    My friends and I have had a tradition over the last decade or so of spending New Year’s in a different place around the globe, e.g. Paris, Istanbul, Belize, Buenos Aries, Prague, etc. (no, I haven’t made all of the the trips, but the ones I got to were fantastic!).

    Last year, we decided on Vegas. You know. To save money. Ahem.

    Anyway, we had a great time, and — as part of the tradition — we held our New Year’s Eve dinner at Lotus of Siam. It. Was. Awesome. One of my very good friends and I had met in China years ago, where we both taught at the same language institute. She went on to live in Thailand for a few years, and was thrilled to find that Lotus offers extraordinarily authentic northern Thai cuisine.

    Your review was pretty much spot on. P.S. Did you know there’s now a L of S in New York City? It’s true!

  • CatCatAttack

    They just featured Lotus on Top Chef Masters. I recognized it from your blog.

More from The Blog

On Instagram @theeverywhereist

  • Downtown Flemington is obviously haunted but still super charming.
  • I can't deal with this. #toocute #babytequila
  • Philadelphia in the snow is breaking my heart.
. . . . 
#snow #Philadelphia #independencemall
  • Finally got to meet Niko. This is the closest I came to getting a clear shot of the little squirmer.
  • It's snowing here in Philly and we're trying to keep warm.
  • He's never not cute.
  • Walked through the Italian Market in Philly because Rand had never been, and encountered a bunch of guys who were dressed like Burgess Meredith and quoting lines from Rocky. No, for real.
  • He fell asleep on his hair on the flight over and asked me to fix it.
  • I couldn't resist.
  • Me: I'm thinking of writing, 'Sixteen years ago these two kids went out on their first date.' What should be the next line?
Him: ... "The next morning they went out on their second"?
Me: Damn it.

All Over The Place

Buy my book and I promise I'll never ask you for anything again.

BE AWESOME. BUY IT.