My sister and I joke that our hometown of Peñasco is the only place in the entire country that doesn’t have a McDonald’s or a Thai restaurant. Thanks to our neighbors in the Picuris Pueblo, there’s a Subway just a few miles west of our home. The McDonald’s closest to Peñasco is 25 miles away in Taos which also boasts of three Thai restaurants. Driving twenty-five miles in the high mountain country is very different from driving 25 miles in Albuquerque where you might still be in the Duke City when driving that distance. Driving from Peñasco to Taos involves precipitous curves, steep climbs and sometimes weather conditions that render the streets unsafe.
Just how pervasive are Thai restaurants? There are some 20,000 Thai restaurants outside of Thailand, about half of them being in the United States and Canada. A humorous YouTube video actually purports to answer “Why Almost Every Town in America Has a Thai Restaurant, and goes on to declare “Thai restaurants: they’re as American as apple pie.” You’ll have to watch the video for yourself to learn more about the ubiquity of Thai restaurants. Suffice to say, Peñasco may be the last place under spacious skies to have a Thai restaurant. Peñasco may be the last place for a McDonald’s, too…and there are 13,503 McDonalds restaurants in the United States as of May 10, 2023.
The ubiquity of Thai restaurants makes them a dependable option when deciding where to eat while traveling. That dependability applies not only to the sheer number of Thai restaurants dotting the fruited plain, but just how consistently “same” they tend to be. Yelp lists some eight Thai restaurants within Twin Falls, Idaho, most garnering four to five star ratings. We selected Jasmine Thai Cuisine, one of the five-star options. A fellow blogger told me Jasmine Thai was the best Asian restaurant in Twin Falls. If you can’t trust food bloggers, who are you going to trust?
Jasmine Thai is somewhat off the beaten path or at least for us it was. Not knowing the streets of Twin Falls, we had to rely on our trusty GPS to get us around. Our path seemed rather indirect and when we got to Jasmine Thai, there were very few vehicles in the parking lot. “This is the best Asian restaurant in Twin Falls?” we asked ourselves. By the time our meal concluded, the restaurant was nearly full. From the outside Jasmine Thai looks rather Lilliputian, but it’s actually quite expansive with two separate dining rooms. We were seated in the larger of the two, a yawning space.
It’s become somewhat of a joke for us to imagine going to an American restaurant and seeing a framed photograph of Brandon prominently displayed on the walls. Half the American population wouldn’t dine at the restaurant if they saw that. At Thai restaurants, however, you’ll almost always find a framed photograph of the king. More interesting than a royal portrait was one of the most unique murals we’ve seen. Buddha (a skinny one) is at the center of what appears to be a raging conflict. One side of the mural depicts people in a watery tempest. Some are being consumed by dragons or large fish. Others struggle to escape their watery grave. The other side of the mural doesn’t appear quite as Armageddon-like, but it’s certainly no happy scene.
More interesting than the mural or the photograph of the royal family is the menu. Talk about ubiquity. If you’ve ever wondered why the menu at most Thai restaurants appears to be a mirror image of every other menu at every Thai restaurant you’ve visited, Mashed.Com has the answer for you: “In 2002, the Thai government officially launched the Global Thai Program, which, according to Food & Wine, served as a diplomatic initiative to increase Thai restaurants globally.” This initiative is known as Gastrodiplomacy.” Thailand’s Department of Export Promotion devised a standardized pricing structure based on Thai restaurant menus that are strikingly similar no matter where you go (unless you go to Peñasco).
While the menus at Thai restaurants are strikingly similar, our experiences have shown that not all Thai restaurants are created equal. For me, the best Thai restaurants strike a balance between the five main flavors in Thai cuisine: salty, sour, sweet, spicy and creamy. Typically, an authentic Thai dish has one slightly prominent taste with layers of the other three or four flavors providing balance and enriching the overall taste of a dish. I’m sad to say that the reason we don’t frequent Thai restaurants in the Albuquerque area is because most dishes skew heavily toward sweet dishes and the balance of flavors just isn’t always there.
Okay, so we knew exactly what dishes the menu would have so our big question was how balanced would the dishes be. Our first test was the chicken satay, the first we’ve had that wasn’t skewered. As expected, the satay was served with a cucumber salad and peanut sauce for dipping. Both sauces were on the sweet side (not that we’d kick them off our table). The satay was grilled chicken strips marinated in sugar and curry powder with some coconut milk, lemongrass and lime leaves. Curry was the prevalent flavor, but notes of coconut milk and lemongrass snuck in periodically. We knew we were in for a good experience.
If “Thai hot” dishes are Chuck Norris, my Kim’s favorite dishes tend to be more like Don Knotts, not necessarily milquetoast but lacking piquancy. That’s why she loves drunken noodles (stir-fried flat rice noodles with garlic, bell pepper, onion, carrot, tomato and basil), a dish which has absolutely no alcohol. According to Giant of Siam, “As with many traditional dishes, there are several stories about where the name “drunken noodles” came from. More than one of them is related to how spicy these noodles are. One explanation is that because the dish is so spicy, you would have to drink a lot to handle the spice. Another is that the extreme spice of the noodles is the only thing strong enough for inebriated people to taste.” In truth, there’s nothing spicy or piquant about the dish unless you request it. My Kim no longer enjoys anything spicier than ketchup and that’s how Jasmine Thai prepared her drunken noodles. The flat rice noodles are somewhat reminiscent of Italian pappardelle noodles and in fact, there are a number of varying recipes for Italian drunken noodles. Though there were no surprises, Jasmine Thai’s version of drunken noodles was quite good.
Our server told me his favorite curry dish is Penang curry Thai hot so that’s precisely how I requested it. You might be asking yourself how you can find balance in a dish that is that hot. It’s not easy unless your taste buds are coated in asbestos. Then maybe, just maybe you can discern more than just the heat. For example, there’s the sweetness of the coconut milk, the sour tang of kaffir lime and the savory notes of the accompanying steamed jasmine rice and choice of protein (pork, chicken, beef, tofu, veggie). I previously referred to “Thai hot” dishes as Chuck Norris in that they pack a fierce kick, but they also pack superb flavors. This was the best Penang curry I’ve had in years.
One of our favorite desserts from any nation is mangoes with sticky rice. In season, it’s one of the most delicious, fresh-tasting postprandial treats you can imagine. This traditional Thai dessert made with glutinous rice (sticky rice), coconut cream, and fresh mango will blow your socks off. Imagine the sweetness of the coconut cream melded together with the nutty, chewy, sticky texture of the glutinous rice and the incomparably refreshing taste of sliced, cooled mangoes. Mangoes are known for their juicy flesh, but the flavor can be difficult to describe. Some compare the taste to a cross between peach and pineapple. Others say it tastes like a combination of tropical flavors with a hint of citrus. All I know is that mangoes are uniquely delicious with an incomparable, unbeatable flavor all their own.
The dichotomy of Thai restaurants is that despite their “sameness,” some rise above the standard. Jasmine Thai Cuisine is one such restaurant. It’s one of the best Thai restaurants we’ve encountered in our travels.
Jasmine Thai Cuisine
428 2nd Ave E
Twin Falls, Idaho
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LATEST VISIT: 4 June 2023
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Penang Curry, Satay, Drunken Noodles, Mangoes with Sticky Rice