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[Photographs: Joe Roy]

According to Leela of She Simmers, Siam Noodle & Rice is one of the most underrated Thai restaurants in Chicago. I guess it's not hard to see why. The nondescript spot, located on a dusty stretch of Sheridan, is a little further north and out of the way than all the other oft-heralded heavy hitters (Spoon Thai, Sticky Rice, TAC Quick, Any's Thai Kitchen, Rainbow Cuisine, etc), and there's no mythos surrounding an obscure Thai menu to draw in the Thai obsessed. But hear me out. If you make the trek up here, and you can somehow pull yourself away from nearby Sun Wah, Tank Noodle, or Ba Le, you'll be rewarded with some pretty solid offerings—especially of the stir fried noodle variety.
 
Like most everyone else who claims to be serious about Thai food, I hardly ever order Pad Thai anymore. But one bite of the Pad Thai Beef ($7.95) served an instant reminder why this was my (and so many others') gateway drug. The toothsome noodles retain their slightly ridged edges and never turn to mush, while the restrained garnishes and not-too-sweet sauce never overpower. The star, though, is the tender beef, smoky with wok hai and generously peppered throughout the dish.

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As good as the Pad Thai is, I've never been able to come here without ordering the Pad Kee Mao ($7.95 with shrimp). Think of this as pad see ew, plus: the addition of bean sprouts, chili paste, and Thai basil make this dish more floral and complex, and the use of collard greens over the more common American broccoli lend a welcome bitter note to the dish.
 
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I should mention the Condiment Caddy, which allows the proper amount of tableside customization for those of us who never grew out of Flat Top Grill's DIY aesthetic. The crushed dried chili adds heat without disrupting the sauce to noodle ratio, while the pickled green chilies brighten all they touch. Best of all is the ruby red chili garlic sauce, which is fiery hot and plenty puckery.
 
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The appetizers I tried were hit and miss. The Fried Dried Beef ($6.50), which Leela recommends, is a must order. Beef jerky is the first thing that comes to mind, though the comparison undersells the dish considerably. Though dried and fried, the meat is still somehow tender, with only minimal tug-back. As good as it is on its own, the spicy dried chili based sauce enhances the smoky meat. All this being said, give this dish your undivided attention when it arrives: as the meat cools, the fried dried jerky divide narrows quickly, and the above accolades become less and less applicable.
 
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Comprised of chopped hard fried eggs, cucumber, ripe tomato slices, and ground peanuts, the Egg Salad ($3.50) definitely had me curious. However, the viscous, one note sauce is cloyingly sweet and overwhelms the other more novel components. Too bad.
 
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Unlike inferior versions, the Thai Iced Tea ($2.75) actually tastes like black tea. Stir the milky cloud to the bottom, and the drink becomes Southern sweet tea, by way of Thailand.
 
With all the great well-known Thai spots in Chicago, it's easy to get stuck in a rut. A delicious, always satisfying rut, but even so—with so many great Thai restaurants, it's important to step out of our comfort zones and try something new. I can't think of any better way to venture from the bright, herbal salads we've all grown to love than with a plateful of the comforting noodles at Siam Noodle & Rice that got us here in the first place.

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