By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- It's easy to miss Thai Cuisine in the shopping center -- the tiny restaurant is tucked in an often-overlooked part of a strip mall on Nova Road anchored by Bealls and Ross, with only a small sign on the window identifying the place. But if you do miss Thai Cuisine, you're missing out on one of the best places in Volusia County for fresh, made-from-scratch Thai food.
For those who might not be familiar with Thai cuisine, it differs from other Asian cuisines in that it's prepared with more natural ingredients and herbs, and is not processed with artificial ingredients or preservatives. Because of that, Thai food is a healthier option for a person craving Chinese food, who's also counting calories.
Restaurant manager Louis Zhang, who often hears from his customers that he resembles Elvis Presley, takes great pride in the food he serves because it's less processed and more flavorful than other cuisines.
"Once you eat Thai food, anything else will be flavorless," he said. "With spices, you travel in space. If people don't eat with spice they only travel on the bus."
Mr. Zhang co-owns Thai Cuisine with his wife, Khamgin, who is the restaurant's chef. The food she prepares is based on family recipes; some of the specialties on the menu include Thai curry, basil and chili fish, a shrimp and tofu dish called "palace delight" and a northeast-style steak, onions and peppers dish called "jungle steak."
Thai Cuisine started out five years ago with a small location at the Daytona Flea & Farmers Market in Daytona Beach. The food received rave reviews from the throngs of tourists and locals that stream through the flea market during its weekend operations, and some people encouraged Mr. Zhang to set up a location elsewhere so he could offer the food seven days a week.
The search for restaurant space brought Mr. Zhang to Port Orange and he opened Thai Cuisine last year. When I first walked into the restaurant, I was surprised to see how small it was -- space was so limited, there were only four tables. It was a hole in the wall if I ever saw one.
But the tiny restaurant packs in a lot of business -- especially on weekends -- which it does primarily through carryout and delivery orders, although some choose to dine in. Asked if he would ever expand to a larger location to add more space for dining, Mr. Zhang said he's looking into the feasibility of moving into a new location.
On my visit, I had the garlic beef ($8.25), tenderized steak pieces served sautéed with green onions and marinated in brown garlic sauce. My guest had the shrimp Pad Thai ($7.55), shrimp served on a bed of rice noodles blended with vegetables, ground peanuts and a house-made Pad Thai sauce. Both dishes came with a side of Thai jasmine rice, which the restaurant has shipped from Thailand.
Mr. Zhang said the cost of the food served at Thai Cuisine is reasonable compared to other Thai restaurants in the area.
This was the first time my guest and I tried Thai food, and we were both impressed with what we tasted. The beef in my dish was tender with the right amount of spice and sauce to it. My guest thought the shrimp tasted very fresh, as well as the noodles and rice. If you dine in, each table at the restaurant has containers of soy sauce and Sriracha sauce as condiments, but Mr. Zhang said with the spices used in the food, "you don't need to add anything else." My guest and I agreed.
Despite the restaurant's name, Thai Cuisine isn't exclusively Thai food. The restaurant also serves several items associated with different Asian cuisines, such as the Chinese dish General Tso's chicken, Japanese hibachi steak and chicken prepared with a house-made hibachi sauce, and pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup.
I skipped dessert, but my guest opted to try the mango sticky rice, a bed of rice mixed with coconut milk served with a mango on top. My guest thought the flavors from the rice, mango and coconut milk blended well together. If mango sticky rice sounds too adventurous for your tastes, Thai Cuisine also serves coconut ice cream and fried ice cream.
Looking for fresh, tasty, healthy and affordable Asian food? Thai Cuisine does it all.
Thai Cuisine is at 3781 Nova Road, Suite P, in Port Orange. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, call (386) 763-0880 or visit www.thaicuisinefl.com.