Dallas has no other restaurant quite like Too Thai Street Eats.
Although we have more than a few good Thai restaurants, none of them shares much in common with Too Thai, a new Carrollton establishment that focuses on the foods of Bangkok’s street vendors, night markets and hawker stalls. Like Crushcraft in Uptown, Too Thai’s rafters are fluttering with colorful paper flags. But there ends any similarity between this thrilling new kitchen — which shares ownership with the Best Thai Signature mini chain — and its competitors around town.
There’s simply nobody else in the region serving this food, except for a few market vendors who congregate behind the Buddhist Center of Dallas at lunchtime Sunday. Too Thai sells pad Thai and fried rice, but its menu veers into new and delightful directions.
Take hoi todt ($12), pronounced like an American’s greeting: “Hi, Todd.” This is an omelet on top of a modest pile of bean sprouts and garnished with cilantro, but it’s also a genre-buster. For one thing, the omelet is studded with about a dozen mussels. For another, the egg is only half the story; there’s also a tapioca flour mixture which, when fried in a lot of oil, gives the batter a remarkable crispy-crunchy texture filled with bubbles and air pockets. It’s like a big, bubbly crepe-chip. There is nothing else like it in Dallas.
Papaya salad is on a lot of menus around town, but Too Thai features three varieties, reflecting the way in which Thai papaya salad is as regionally varied a dish as barbecue is here. Each corner of the country has its twist on the core idea of shredding and gently pounding papaya strips, then mixing them with other vegetables and an ultra-intense hot-and-sour sauce.
The standard papaya salad, or tum Thai ($9), is wonderfully balanced and gently spicy, but not all of these recipes have been toned down for American taste buds. Isan-style papaya salad, tum poo-pla la ($11), is a barrage of sour flavors from hot chili peppers, fermented fish sauce and so much lime that there are, in fact, whole wedges of lime skins mixed right in. It’s cooked with a handful of small black crab claws to add even more salty-savory depth to the fish sauce dressing, and — even when ordered medium-spicy — just about the only relief from the heat is to get a merciful bite of fresh heirloom cucumber or tomato.
Pad kee mao, or “drunken noodles,” are a favorite at just about any good Thai restaurant; here, though, a variation — mama pad kee mao ($15) — offers a street-hawker take. The noodles are popular with intoxicated diners and the occasional intoxicated chef, so it only makes sense that there’d be a variation that uses, yes, instant cup noodles. The result is scrumptious, with a heaping helping of clams, mussels, shrimp, baby corn and holy basil mixed in. (Ask for it quite spicy.)
Big tables should try at least one of the shareable soups, which arrive in hot pots, gas flames still flickering underneath. Mama o ho ($16) can feed two or three people with appetizers, and it’s a veritable banquet of fresh seafood, fish balls, mushrooms and more instant noodles in a gently sour, lime-heavy broth.
Many of the plates at Too Thai are heavy on meat and noodles. For a more balanced meal, try khao kha muu ($12), a heap of tender braised pork hock, its delicate broth sinking into and moistening the rice underneath. It’s served with a clutch of veggies and, alas, a hard-boiled egg that is rather overcooked.
Too Thai excels at appetizers — the crispy chicken skins coated in sesame seeds, which have crunch but are still pliable and ever-so-slightly chewy ($4); “crying tiger,” a platter of astonishingly tender grilled sirloin steak ($15); and nue daad dieo ($8), strips of beef heated just until they’re dry, doused in spices and flash-fried for crisp texture.
The restaurant is less exciting when it’s serving the most Westernized fare. True, the green curry with chicken is richly flavored and studded with gum ball-sized Thai eggplant, but even when we ordered it fairly spicy (3 on Too Thai’s scale of 4), the result was disappointingly gentle. Even the water spinach stir fry ($10) is spicier, dotted as it is with chili flakes and garlic, a fantastic way to add veggies to the feast.
Raad na, the noodle dish served with a slippery brown gravy that’s thickened by starch, has a tinge of sweetness from sweet soy sauce ($14) and is generously heaped with shrimp, chicken and Chinese kale. Crab fried rice is similarly liberal with the rice and scallions, and it's topped with large morsels of real crab that linger in aroma and flavor even after the meat is gone. And, while some appetizer meats offer the smoky allure of grilling, others — like the gleefully fatty pork-a-palooza that is kor moo yang ($13) — are more like piles of meat.
Over five visits, the waitstaff at Too Thai never offered dessert, but the restaurant serves options such as mango sticky rice and coconut ice cream. Of course, the restaurant is in a dessert mecca of a strip mall, steps away from stores purveying Japanese crepes, rolled ice cream, bubble tea, Korean shaved ice and French-style baked goods. This corner of Carrollton boasts so many fascinating restaurants that a food critic could camp out here for a month.
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But Too Thai Street Eats stands out even on that crowded corner. We were already prepared to love this newcomer’s ultracolorful interior, peppy Thai pop music and cheery service. Cracking into a crisp plate of hoi todt, snacking on chicken skins or slurping up fancified instant noodles, we can’t see how the Thai food scene in Dallas can ever be the same again.
We’ve got plenty of good pad see ew and coconut-milk curry. Too Thai is the bold, inviting, horizon-expanding alternative we need.
Too Thai Street Eats, 2540 Old Denton Road, Suite 138, Carrollton. 469-892-6313, toothaistreeteats.com. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday.