Despite living down the street from the restaurant, I'd never ventured into Naga Thai. There are only a handful of Thai restaurants at which I will eat, and something about a Thai restaurant in Victory Park created images of high-priced, bastardized ethnic food in my mind. My stance softened when I saw the magic "B" word in Sarah's Hash Over last week -- buffet.
I'd long known about the lagging economy's affect on Victory Park, but had it gotten this bad? A lunch buffet? Whether because of location or loftiness, I always assumed that Naga Thai's prices would be higher than they actually are. In actuality, the restaurant's prices are downright reasonable. I had to wonder if tough times contributed to a drop in its prices, but the restaurant's manager, Sam Mangkalee, assured me that prices have been the same since Naga Thai's opening.
A mission statement on the Naga Thai's website confirmed the restaurant's philosophy of delivering Thai food in a modern setting for sensible prices. With rent being as high as it is in Victory Park, I was curious to see how this would affect the quality of the food.
Naga Thai is the newest addition to the NYC-based Spice Thai Restaurant Group. I had a highly enjoyable (and affordable) experience eating at a sister restaurant in the group -- SEA in Brooklyn -- so Naga Thai looked promising.
Because of its proximity to downtown and businesses, the bulk of the restaurant's traffic is during lunch hours. Along with its recent buffet addition, Naga Thai also offers lunch specials with impressive portions and admirable prices. There are $12 lunch boxes featuring several courses, or $9 entrees plus free appetizer. The $10 buffet offers the best bang for the buck, however, both variety-wise and price-wise.
At first glance, the buffet may look meager. Six chafing dishes, a bowl of salad greens and a plate of fresh fruit didn't look like that much food, but my quick judgment was proven incorrect. Lifting lid after lid revealed a cornucopia of thoughtful Thai cuisine offerings to accommodate both carnivores and herbivores. As Sarah mentioned in her Hashover, the buffet menu rotates daily. Dishes on the line the afternoon of my visit included a shrimp Panang curry, basil chicken, tom yum soup and beef drunken noodles. Despite being on a buffet line, the dishes were all pretty fresh. Impressively, entrees were abundant with meat and chock-full of vibrantly colored, al denté vegetables. Fresh basil retained its shape and fragrance, although fried appetizers, such as spring rolls, curry crab Rangoon, and curry puffs suffered the cold and soggy buffet curse. It's a shame, too, because the curry crab Rangoons are quite tasty, even when cold.
Thai food is well known for being a celebration of flavors, specifically spicy, sour and sweet. Overall, Naga Thai succeeds in showcasing these flavors. Unfortunately, on the day I visited, a few of the dishes' flavors were overwhelmed with a heavy hand of salt. Even paired with rice, dishes such as a sweet and sour catfish still were on the salty side. Otherwise, the crispiness of the fried catfish coupled with the spicy sweet glaze of sauce would have been a bona fide winner.
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Ultimately, the buffet served as a great sneak peak of the restaurant, and I would come back for dinner. Although the location of the restaurant is a bit awkward (when it comes to where locals eat), Naga has a "neighborhood-Thai restaurant feel" potential going for it. The attractive prices and quality of dishes definitely warrant return visits, if only to explore more of the interesting menu. I started that menu exploration early by ordering a taro pudding and coconut ice cream dessert. For $5, the not-too-sweet dessert was a perfectly pleasant way to end a satisfying meal.
Buffet Hits Curry crab Rangoon, tom yum soup, Thai fried rice, shrimp Panang curry, chicken glass noodles, fresh fruit.
Misses Saltiness ruined the beef drunken noodles, basil chicken, and catfish in sweet and sour sauce. Cold fried appetizers.
Naga Thai Kitchen and Bar 665 High Market St. 214-953-0023