I’ve had plenty of Thai food in my life but never really took the time to dive deep into it — to educate myself on the differentiators that make it unique and different from other Asian cuisines.
The first thing I learned is that Thai food and the culinary traditions and cuisines of Thailand’s neighbors, especially India, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia, have mutually influenced one another over many centuries.
For example, Thai people learned how to use spices in their food in various ways from Indians…hence the curries you will find on many Thai menus.
Thai cooking emphasizes lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components and a spicy edge. Thai cuisine is like juggling multiple elements and ingredients to create a harmonious finish.
Traditional Thai cuisine loosely falls into four categories: tom (boiled dishes), yam (spicy salads), tam (pounded foods) and gaeng (curries). Deep-fries, stir-fries, and steamed dishes all derive from Chinese cooking.
Chili peppers, originally from the Americas, were introduced to Thailand by the Portuguese and Spanish and became, with rice, one of the essential ingredients in Thai cuisine.
I’ll stop my history lesson there as I could go on and on with it. I revisited Thai food recently at the Carlsbad location of Thai One On, as they also have a Vista restaurant. I’m a big fan of dry Asian beers, and Thailand has a delicious one in Singha which has been around since 1933. It’s a dry, super crisp lager made with German hops, and it pairs exceptionally well with the full range of heat that can accompany Thai food. It is a fine beverage to sip while pondering the extensive menu.
All the chefs at Thai one On are culinary school trained in Thailand, providing a solid foundation in the kitchen at both locations. The Vista spot has been open for 18 years, and Carlsbad is going on five years now and is expanding.
They describe the menu as “upscale Thai food, offering an aesthetically pleasing ambiance combined with the authentic aroma of Thai cuisine made fresh to order.” A heat range is also in place with a spice scale ranging from 1-10, and they can take it a few notches higher for the heat freaks. There are also extensive vegan and vegetarian offerings as well.
We started our meal with the fantastic Larb Wraps. We added chicken, combined with rice, mint, onion, spicy lime dressing, green onion and cilantro, all in perfectly formed Romaine leaf wraps. It was a fabulous way to begin the meal. It was hearty enough that it could easily suffice as an entree for one. I want to know where the average consumer can buy those perfectly formed Romain lettuce cups.
Next up were the equally delicious and slightly more exotic Golden Flower Pastries. These were new to me and were beautifully shaped little pastries filled with chicken, onion, potato, peas, cucumber and chutney. Between these and the Larb Wraps, I was a happy camper, but we had to try more.
They offer a combination platter of their most popular appetizers, including Chicken Satay, Golden Flowers, Crispy Roll and Half Moon Ton. There are also several soup options, along with Tom Kha and Tom Yum.
The Golden Fingers — bacon-wrapped shrimp — were lovely, as were the Vegetable Fresh Rolls we did with tofu to keep it healthy. Given the crossover with Indian cuisine, I had to try the Chicken Yellow Curry, which was spot on.
My companion got the Drunken Noodles and was very happy with her selection. According to those in the know, next time, we need to try the Honey Roasted Duck, BBQ Quail, Thai BBQ Beef Skewers and Pad Thai.
I also noticed the Roasted Duck Curry, a half-roasted duck with pineapple, tomato, bell pepper, Thai basil and a creamy red curry sauce. And again, all of this was accompanied by a delicious, crisp, cold Singha lager.
The feast concluded with Mango Sticky Rice, with perfect slices of mango on sweet sticky rice and coconut milk topped with sesame seeds. It was a new dessert sensation to me, and I loved it. A Fried Banana with vanilla or coconut ice cream topped with honey is also a fun dessert option.
Some more points worth noting are that the Vista location has a full Thai-Tiki bar with some fun and exotic cocktails that would be worth exploring. The hospitality I encountered at the Carlsbad restaurant was top-notch. It should be noted that carryout and catering for any size event are available.