January 5, 2017 · 12:31 PM
One of our favorite Thai dishes is the Northern Thai specialty Nam Khao Tod. It is a more unique dish that is pretty hard to find at most neighborhood Thai restaurants in the US, but we happily found that there are two places in Chicago on a stretch of Western Avenue that both serve Nam Khao Tod – Spoon Thai (4608 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL) and Rainbow Cuisine (). Spoon Thai is a longtime favorite for more authentic Thai dishes in Chicago, and Rainbow Cuisine is a relative newcomer on the scene, but is producing great Northern Thai specialties. In an interesting twist, the chef from Spoon Thai, Wanpen Phosawang, actually left to open Rainbow Thai with her husband (and we have been using the recipe from Spoon Thai at home). Since Nam Khao Tod is so hard to find – we knew we had to try the two Chicago contenders head to head.
Nam Khao Tods head to head
The Challenge: Nam Khao Tod is a complex dish made with a great combination of clean flavors: Northern-style nam / naem sausage, red onion, red curry, chili peppers, fresh ginger, limes, peanuts, fish sauce and cilantro. However, making the dish itself takes some finesse – especially when making the crispy rice – which requires deep frying rice croquettes, discarding the soft bits and breaking apart the crispy exterior. The mix of textures and sweet-sour-salty-acidic flavors is what makes Nam Khao Tod so special.
The Winner: The dishes were about the same price and size – Spoon Thai’s ($9.95) is on the left, and Rainbow Cuisine’s ($8.95) is on the right. The dishes both had all the key elements of nam khao tod, however Spoon Thai’s also had the addition of carrots, and was served on a bed of lettuce. When comparing the two, we agreed on a clear winner: Rainbow Thai. The rice was much crispier (a necessity) and the flavors were all melded together much more coherently. The nam sausage in Spoon’s version was also somewhat undercooked. Though both Nam Khao Tods were delicious we have to say that Rainbow Cuisine handily won the Nam Khao Tod face-off. If you want to try a new Northern Thai dish, make it this one.
April 28, 2015 · 9:23 AM
Rainbow Thai (4825 North Western Avenue) is absolutely our favorite recent food find, and it totally changed the way we think about Thai food in the city. In fact, we like it so much, a part of us wants to delete this post and not add to the increasing number of Chicagoans who swear by Rainbow Thai. We have visited Rainbow Thai 5 or 6 times now, and the major change that we noticed on our last visit is that they have expanded into the storefront next door: what was previously only three very small tables is now a welcoming, cozy, tastefully decorated space perfect for eating some of the most unique, rewarding, and clear Thai cuisine in the city.
Rainbow Thai seating: Before
Rainbow Thai seating: After
We went to Rainbow two times in as many weeks, to try to get a flavor for what they had to offer. They have 2 menus: a standard American-friendly Thai menu with your classics like pad see eiw and pad thai, as well as a “Thai” menu of untranslated dishes. Last year, the good people at LTH Forum took the trouble of translating everything on the authentic Thai menu, and good thing they did because we could not get enough of the dishes off this menu. Clients like it so much that now seatings at Rainbow Thai come with three menus: the standard menu, the Thai menu, and a print-off of the LTH Forum page translating it! Clearly, Rainbow Thai approves of the translation and descriptions.
Pad see ew (front) , jungle curry and nam khao tod
This is a family operation, the son (or sometimes the dad) takes orders and mom cooks. Dishes may not come out right together or super quickly, but that’s ok. This is a place where patience is rewarded. Usually we end up over-ordering and they will say so.They also appeared to be doing a pretty brisk carryout business. Below are some of our favorites: items with an asterisk come from the Thai menu.
Vietnamese Crepes (Kanom Buang yuan)
- *Kanom Buang yuan – Of Vietnamese origin (banh xeo), these Thai crepes are made of a crispy egg skin and then filled with fresh vegetables. Filling and tasty, we were impressed at how thin and delicate the crepe was.
- *Nam khao tod – When Matt finished this dish for the first time, he immediately walked to the kitchen and said it was the best thing he had eaten in Chicago this year. Five visits later, he says it is still true. Tantalizing caramelized rice is fried together with fish sauce, lime, peanuts, and a special fermented Thai sausage to create a dish that is much more than the sum of these parts: a total exploration of Thai flavor profiles that we have never had in another dish. Just spectacular.
- *Keang paa – Thai Jungle Curry, combining fresh vegetables in a soupy curry with a little heat. This dish is clean and crisp, served with rice on the side.
- *Kao kluk ka pi – At first glance, the various aspects of this dish make no sense together. You receive a plate with a pile of fried rice topped with small dried shrimp, all cooked in shrimp paste; a small mound of pork in sweet/fermented sauce; shredded egg; and thin apple slices. And yet, it all makes sense together. Matt typically orders this alongside the nam khao tod, and it is always too much food. But together they showcase some of the best of what Rainbow Thai has to offer.
- Pad Kra Prow – Basil chicken, a classic finished with spicy fermented sausage, a northern Thai specialty done very well here.
- Pad see eiw – The classic dish and L’s favorite, featuring well-cooked greens and a flavorful soy-based sauce. This version was subtle and delicious, and not as sweet as some versions – a definite winner.
The inimitable nam khao tod
Of course Rainbow Thai also has all your Thai favorites (we’ve heard very good things about their green curry), as well as beverage classics like bubble tea and chaa yen (Thai iced tea). But really, do not come here for the standard menu. Get out of your comfort zone and try some amazing flavor combinations prepared by loving chefs who are genuinely concerned that you like everything you are served. Everything was top notch. Totally fresh and literally made to order. We would return to Rainbow Thai again and again for some old staples as well as new favorites, and you really must get the nam khao tod! Now that there is ample seating, you can even bring your friends.
Kao kluk ka pi