• What: Sri Thai Cuisine.
• Where: 8115 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, No. 60, Vancouver.
• Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
• Contact: 360-984-6643 or SriThaiCuisineVancouverMall.com
On a raw, rainy Monday, I met my friend Nichole Peppers for lunch. The beastliness of the day dissolved upon entry. Water cascaded down a small waterfall by the door. Soothing music filled the room. I found myself face to face with a large Buddha serenely seated in the lotus position, a bright orange placed in his lap. Nichole commented, “It doesn’t feel like you’re in a strip mall.”
Sri Thai Cuisine is located on Vancouver Mall Parkway in the same strip mall as Total Wine & More, sandwiched between Mr. Formal and Sushi Factory. The owner, Watsapon Srikasem, was our waiter. He offered us a traditional Thai greeting, the wai, by pressing his hands together and bowing. We ordered fresh rolls with shrimp, pad kee mao (drunken noodles), and tom yum noodle soup. (Tom yum noodle soup isn’t on the lunch menu, but items on the dinner menu can be ordered all day.)
The food arrived quickly. The fresh rolls were fresh — their rice skins tender and pliable. The crisp, bright lettuce, purple cabbage and carrot contrasted with the sweetness and tenderness of the crescents of shrimp tucked inside. The rolls sang when dipped in the creamy peanut sauce on the side.
The thick rice noodles of the pad kee mao were bathed, but not drenched, in a sumptuous mix of soy sauce and oyster sauce spiked with fish sauce and tempered with a bit of palm sugar. These wide, fragrant noodles swirled around charred chunks of red and green pepper, onion and fresh basil leaves.
A tangle of fresh cilantro, strips of ground chicken, curves of shrimp, rings of squid, chopped green onion and long bean sprouts cloaked the large, white bowl of tom yum noodle soup. Two triangles of fried won tons jutted out of the side like cat ears. The spicy and sour broth wafted a bouquet of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal and fish sauce balanced with fried garlic and ground peanuts. A nest of slick rice noodles lay at the bottom of this profusion of flavors and textures. Nichole concluded, “It’s raining outside, people are upset with the world. This is the broth we need.”
Srikasem took over this space in August. He added booths along the sides of the restaurant, a trickling water feature studded with little yellow rubber ducks, and artwork including a peacock and a Buddha.
Sri is a shortening of his last name, Srikasem, and a title of veneration for deities. Srikasem’s family comes from a town near Bangkok. The menu is filled with food from his childhood, such as curries and tom yum soup. Everything is freshly made and, of course, there’s almost always a splash of fish sauce.
“People say they don’t like fish sauce,” Srikasem said, “but they eat it.” Fish sauce, like many of the other ingredients in Thai cuisine, may be unfamiliar to Westerners, but Thai cooks have spent centuries taking bits of Eastern and Western cuisine and harmonizing the five tastes of sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. The food at Sri Thai Cuisine exemplifies this orchestra of flavors and use of fresh ingredients.
Rachel Pinsky can be emailed at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @couveeats.