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.