I don't think I've ever pushed myself to such gastro-masochistic lengths as I did when devouring the waterfall beef salad ($11.95) from Mee Thai on Lee Road. It's like I was possessed to finish every saucy morsel of pepper-laced beef; munch the entire tangy assemblage of lettuce, onion, cilantro, toasted rice powder and (ooof!) Thai red hots; and to slurp the electrified juice straight from the takeout container, even if the sensible sliver of my brain said otherwise. No amount of sticky rice, iced tea, raw milk, Lamaze breathing or Orbit bubble gum could quell the scream in my mouth and rage in my gut. I'm a pyromaniac, what can I say? But I did my time, about an hour and a half, after which I came to – groggy, disoriented, shirtless and wanting more.
Waterfall beef, or nam tok, is an Isan dish – Isan being the region in northeastern Thailand bordering Laos and Cambodia. Chilies, I'm sure you've deduced by now, are an essential component to most Isan dishes, a portion of which Mee Thai's menu spotlights. They're so finely chopped into the vibrant som tum ($8.95), a bracing, nutty papaya salad sweetened with palm sugar and funked with a bit of dried shrimp and fish sauce, that they're damn near invisible. But they're there. They're definitely there.
They're in the laab ($10.95) as well, arguably the most famous of Isan dishes. Here, the salad comes with your choice of minced chicken, pork or beef all tossed in plenty of lime juice, lemongrass, onions and cilantro. A couple of bags of steamed sticky rice are thrown in to boot.
- Photo by Rob Bartlett
- Green papaya salad at Mee Thai
Now, some Thai restaurants in this town offer a truer taste of Thai cuisine than others. SEA Thai on Colonial Drive (particularly chef Jack Jone's Tuun pop-ups every weekend) and Dali's in Sanford come immediately to mind. Most others focus on the Americanized Thai cuisine we've all come to know and love over the years – the stir fries, pads and panangs.
Mee Thai falls somewhere in between, but when a craving for pad thai ($10.95) hits, I wouldn't hesitate driving to Lee Road. There's just an impeccable balance and freshness to the vivid dish. Soggy noodles? Wilted bean sprouts? Never at Mee – owner Pranee Perry, a gregarious gal, takes way too much pride in her food. Want more fermented flavors in your dishes? She's happy to accommodate. I was happy to accommodate the yum crispy duck salad ($10.95-$17.95) into my lunch routine, and you will too. I like mine accompanied with an utterly delightful rice soup ($4.95) with ground chicken and a side of the crispiest of egg rolls ($3).
For dessert, Perry serves doughy doughnuts ($5) with sweet condensed milk, but the big finish (and an equally great takeout option) is the mango sticky rice ($5.50). The rice is a luminescent bright green, and it comes positioned between two halves of sliced mango, making it all look like a flag of some indeterminate but cheerful country. It makes a colorful end to a colorful meal too, so what are you waiting for? There's nothing standing between you and Mee.
- Photo by Rob Bartlett