When Suwanna Meyer opened Elephant Thai, her second Thai restaurant, just 10 minutes’ south of Chaang Thai on North Academy Boulevard, she told the Indy she would be offering street food dishes in addition to what Americans expect to see on a Thai menu. Being that I’ve never been to Thailand, I can’t speak to the authenticity of anything. But in the little yellow-trimmed building where she and her team do business, I find wonders on our plates.
Starting with appetizers, the curry puffs are also identified as Thai samosas, and that description fits pretty well. The potatoes, carrots and snow peas yield to the tooth with little resistance, perfumed with curry powder that’s clearly Thai rather than Indian. They’re wrapped with a fried dough that crunches more like a wonton than like any samosas we’ve had — not a problem. We also try the crispy pork belly, which comes battered and fried with a coating that looks Southern-style and rates pleasant, but doesn’t impress. That changes when we dip it in the lime-chile dipping sauce, which starts sweet and passes through fruity, sour, spicy and savory notes, thrilling us with how it travels and finishes each bite clean.
Given the portion size for the entrées we order, though, we could’ve skipped the apps and waddled out with leftovers, no problem. Chaang Thai’s red curry has always been a treat, but with roasted duck, it’s incredible. The roasty, fatty skin-on duck slices play beautifully with the curry spices, and pineapple and bell pepper chunks keep things from getting too rich. At a surprisingly spicy medium heat, it’s lovely, though those not fond of capsaicin kick may want to go mild. Also in the realm of delicious curry with a little difference, the rice noodle with fish curry sauce comes with fish balls and ground fish mixed into the sauce, both of which add a brininess that reminds us of the sea (in a good way) and emphasizes the Thai basil.
Crabmeat fried rice offers us a few surprises beyond a fairly standard fried rice dish with the occasional bite of sweet crab. The wok hei — literally the breath or energy of the wok — sings with these flavors, imbuing the dish with a serious smokiness that adds a compelling twist to its sweet and umami flavors. Similarly, one might have pedestrian expectations for khao man gai, or Hainanese chicken and rice, based on the description. But thanks to Anthony Bourdain, we’re primed for the wonder of this relatively healthy dish of steamed, skin-on chicken thigh, ginger-infused rice, ginger-soy sauce with lemongrass and a side of “clear soup” one might also call consommé. The meat tastes so richly and strongly of chicken in the best way, and the earthy, ginger-spicy sauce makes each bite a “wow” moment, even without that intensely flavorful yet delicate soup.
Sukiyaki dry version, a stir-fry also available as a soup served with a choice of protein, rates solid and approachable, less memorable than the rest of the dishes we sample. But when Meyer’s other street food options please us like our first Thai curry all over again, that’s a tough act to follow, and we can’t say we’ve had a weak entrée from Elephant Thai.