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Hẻm Gems: Head to the Airport to Relieve Your Hankering for Thai Food

Insert cliché about this strange year here.

"Uncertain era," "the new normal," "interesting times," or even "a non-stop global dumpster fire" — there are a lot of ways to describe 2020 (that last one is my personal favorite). Whatever you may choose, there is little debate about one fact: international travel is morally irresponsible for now and, in many cases, impossible anyway.

Take those of us lucky enough to be in Vietnam right now. Sure, we can fly out if we want, but we can't get back in, meaning movies, TV shows, photographs and food are our only means of seeing other parts of the world.

In case anyone is looking for a "getaway" to Thailand, may I present Thai House, appropriately located just a few hundred meters from the airport. Close enough, I suppose, that you could actually pretend that you're going to catch a flight.

The restaurant has been located off Truong Son since 2000, and in previous conversation, a colleague described it as "dingy." As a result, I was on the lookout for a run-down shed, but Thai House is actually a spacious, brightly lit two-floor eatery. The walls are pretty bare, I must say, though one features a portrait of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed in 2016, and a Thai family altar.

It was doing brisk business during weekday lunch hour, so this is clearly a popular spot among nearby office workers. The fairly extensive menu features pretty much everything you would expect from general Thai food, including several dishes that are so common I don't even need to name them.

We started off with some Thai milk tea (VND30,000 a glass), along with the beef phad siew (VND100,000). The broad noodles had a good texture and great flavoring, but the beef was tough and chewy, so definitely go for the pork or chicken instead if you get this dish.

Next came the chicken satay (VND110,000 for eight satay), which was absolutely phenomenal. The tender, juicy chicken almost fell of the skewer, and the rich, beautifully colored peanut sauce was among the best I've had anywhere, not just in Saigon. This is a must-order dish, no doubt about it.

Then there was the kra prao, a dish made with a herb our photographer loves so much he has a tattoo of the Thai characters for it on his arm. This edition used real holy basil, a major plus point, but it was on the greasy side, and we made a mistake by adding a century egg to the order. The egg was fine, but it threw off the texture of the plump pork morsels. It's a dish worth ordering, but perhaps would be better as a simple minced pork with fried egg on top (pad kar prao). (Saigoneer: We Here For You.)

Next up was a new dish, the ho mok talay (VND120,000), or seafood curry served in a coconut. This was quite the visual treat, with curry paste exploding out of the coconut, hiding plenty of shrimp, squid and octopus. It was a tasty creation overall, but needed more of a spicy kick, an issue present in a few other selections as well. It seems that Thai House has cut down on the spice level of traditional Thai dishes for local tastes. This is fine in some cases, as I don't necessarily want to blow my face off, but I also don't want mild either.

If it sounds like I'm being too critical of Thai House, it's only because there were several flashes of brilliance in the food, meaning if all of the dishes were consistent, it would be an incredible place. It's still definitely worth a visit, though given the location it's a bit of a trek for some people. Still, given that we can't actually go to Thailand, this is the next best option — and you don't have to quarantine!

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5

Price: 4/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Friendliness: 4/5

Location: 3/5

Michael has almost no sense of smell and was an on-screen extra in Jurassic World. You can usually find him with a craft beer in hand.

Thai food

15 Hậu Giang, Tân Bình District

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