Tong's Chicken Sa-Tay ($7.99) and Papaya Salad ($8.99)
After learning how to conceal the smell of pot in a walk-in freezer and waiting tables despite a wired-shut mouth, the most valuable lesson I learned as an 18-year-old server at Rasta Pasta in Austin was that noodle dishes make for great lunch food. From a cook’s perspective, the pick-up is quick, the mise en place lies prepped, merely awaiting assembly, and in the famous last words of my Rastafarian sous chef, “It’s pretty much impossible to mess up pasta.”
At Tong’s Thai the food is infinitely better than the banana-laden tortellini of my youth, but the mantra about noontime noodles holds true. Before our waitress could ask, “Spicy is okay?” for the fourth consecutive time, food had already started coming to the table. My dining partner and I had chosen the Lao-style papaya salad ($8.99) and chicken sa-tay ($7.99) for starters, and though the prices were a little steep for appetizers, the size justified the investment.
Let it be known that the papaya salad — a cold, deeply funky pile of, amongst other things, julienned papaya, Thai chili, and salty crab — is large enough to be a main course, in addition to a delightful textural hodgepodge. The sa-tay, six bamboo-skewered morsels of not-yet-dry chicken, was not yet dry and mildly sweet, basically the two aspirations of sa-tay chicken.
I had barely given up on sucking a tiny amount of meat from the exoskeleton of a black crab when the entrees arrived. The pad khi mao ($12.99) resembled a workingman’s pad Thai, bearing the dish’s signature nutty spice and various bites of crunchy alliums, but in the place of herbal flourish and bean sprout finesse, the PKM simply offered bell pepper.
Following on its heels came the Tiger Cry ($13.99), a Paleo delight of fiery thin-sliced beef drizzled with a fish sauce and cane sugar bath, reclining on a bed of basil, mint spring mix.
For a more affordable route, Tong’s has an entire section devoted to lunch specials (11am-3pm Mon-Sat) that linger in the $7.99 range, though offerings such as the fried rice, lemon chicken, and sweet and sour seemed more Panda Express than Chiang Mai, and so were duly avoided. For a solid Thai option in the Heights neck of the woods though, Tong’s should be your first choice.
1146 Austin Hwy., (210) 829-7345.
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