Lexington, KY – Every time I hear someone talking about Thai Orchid Cafe, the discussion is invariably punctuated with phrases akin to “hidden gem.” I don’t really know how “hidden” a restaurant can be in the South Broadway Park plaza, but Thai Orchid certainly is a gem.
The family restaurant’s emphasis is on fresh ingredients and made-from-scratch items, a practice that will no doubt become more emboldened as the restaurant’s new owner, Toa Green, injects a youthful and exuberant influence on the food and restaurant. (Green opened the restaurant with her parents in 2006; she assumed full ownership last year.)
Thai Orchid’s modest menu is a traditional affair (at least for American Thai restaurants, I don’t know what they’re serving in Bangkok). There are some curries (red, green, pineapple and “panang” –– a thick curry with peas), speciality seafood plates, standard noodle dishes (such as drunken noodles and the ubiquitous pad thai), and “the classics” –– various medleys of assorted vegetables and herbs paired with chicken, tofu, beef or shrimp. Interestingly, pork was curiously absent from the whole menu. The menu also features a section of “crispy chicken” dinners, each featuring lightly battered chicken tenders matched with a melange of other flavors, such as a zesty pineapple-tangerine sauce and toasted sesame seeds.
For appetizers, a handful of fried delectables is available –– egg rolls, spring rolls, fried tofu, shrimp “pillows” (a spring roll, with shrimp). We ordered the sampler platter, and after the first bite, the gulf between homemade and store-bought appetizers was evident. Each morsel was delicious and came with its own particular dipping sauce.
For our dinner, my guest and I struggled making the selections. Encouraged by the menu to try eating our meal “family style,” we opted to share an order of pad kee mow (drunken noodles), which is wide rice noodles stir-fried with egg and tomatoes in a chili sauce (with shrimp, $14) and the “Triple Crown chicken,” a sampling of items from the crispy chicken menu –– peanut chicken, pineapple tangerine chicken and sweet chili chicken ($16).