photo: Joel Henzie
Siam might appear to be just another unassuming Thai joint in a string of ethnic restaurants on 55th Street in Hyde Park. It has the misfortune of being situated between two other seemingly similar Thai restaurants. A quick appraisal of its interior, with its dusty plastic flowers and tourism posters, might make you think you'd do better at The Snail, another Thai restaurant two doors down that's much more popular with the local U of C kids.
But what do the kids know? Siam has been around for years because its food speaks for itself. It serves one of the most brilliant tom yum noodle soups ($6.75) around, a wild tangle of rice noodles floating in a simple but sublime broth. One spoonful hints of bright, citrus notes spiked with flecks of dried chili pepper that pinch your throat on the way down. Garnished with cilantro and finely ground peanuts, it's as good as it gets. Just try ordering the dish at any other Thai place. If the heavy, orange-hued stew loaded with fish sauce isn't what you're expecting, that's because Siam has spoiled you with the real thing.
The basil chicken and basil beef are both much better than average, loaded with fresh basil and enough just-sauteed jalapenos to give your stomach lining a run for its money. The Bangkok chicken ($7.00) is an unrepentant guilty pleasure. Deep-fried and breaded, the chicken comes glazed with a honey-based chili sauce that hardens into a candy shell if you leave it sitting for too long. It's a dish that indulges both your savory and sweet tooth.
Skip some of the more attention-grabbing fare at Siam, like the red snapper, a deep-fried whole fish slathered with the sauce of your choice. The trick is to keep it simple here, and enjoy the basics done right. The quality of its dishes can be inconsistent (even the tom yum noodle soup can arrive to your table watered down), but when it's on, the results are rare and nearly perfect.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Ling Ma