With all due respect to Joël Robuchon, Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and other world-renowned chefs who have flocked to Las Vegas, some of the city’s greatest meals are off the Strip. The best Thai restaurant in Las Vegas—and maybe in the entire country—sits a mile east of the aging Sahara Hotel & Casino, among dingy strip malls in downtown Las Vegas. After an acclaimed three-year run at the Renu Nakorn restaurant in Norwalk, Calif., chef Saipin Chutima and her husband, Suchay (who goes by the name “Bill”), opened Lotus of Siam in 2000 to make their mark in a place that was not cluttered with Thai restaurants.
Chutima’s cooking is literally fit for a king: She learned her craft from a chef who once manned the kitchens of Thailand’s royal palace. While she prepares the full array of familiar Bangkok dishes, including a mean pad Thai, Chutima specializes in the cuisine of her native Isan, the northern region of Thailand, which shares the subtler approach to spices that prevails in Myanmar and southern China. Chutima’s version of the nam kao tod appetizer unites the tang of minced sour sausage with herbal notes of green onions, mint, ginger, and fresh chilies (she also adds peanuts and Isan crispy rice for texture). In a nod to Hunan culinary influences, she pairs deep-fried sea bass with stir-fried flat rice noodles, and then tops the plate with julienned mint and basil, minced chilies, and a dark, savory garlic sauce. The sophistication of the food pairs well with the floral and spicy wines of Lotus’ surprisingly deep list, which is dominated by German Rieslings.
Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas, 702.735.3033, www.saipinchutima.com