La Norteña–Pecos, TX

La Norteña
211 E. 3rd St.
Pecos, TX
(432) 445-3273

Update 2016: Since my review the business has moved across the street into a larger building. It appears, though, that the tamales are still for takeout (I am not sure if they have tables available to eat them on site).

La Norteña has found success by making items that are staples in many Mexican meals, tortillas and tamales, but which few families have time to prepare when they cook. The food is served fresh and hot, but La Norteña is take-out only. If you wish to eat it in your car or take it to a city park for a picnic, though, the owners will make accommodation by providing napkins, plastic forks, and other useful items.

Having a widespread following for their Tamales, many travelers stop by for a dozen or so while diving through on Interstate 20. I had heard that these spicy, New Mexico style tamales were good, and they lived up to their billing. The standard tamales sold are made with red chile and shredded pork, and honestly seemed as if they could be served by the best restaurants in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. Around Christmas other types of tamales are available as well.

Open throughout the day, the tamales here would make a good breakfast or lunch if you wish to try them fresh (which I recommend).


RATING: 22

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $
Hours: Open daily (breakfast & lunch only)
Special Features: Takeout Only

Most Recent Visit: Jan. 6, 2004
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Tamales

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Tamales

King And I–Midland, TX

King and I Thai Cuisine
801 N. Big Spring St.
Midland, TX
(432) 682-0988
King and I Thai Cuisine

King and I in Midland


This Thai restaurant near downtown Midland may seem out of place in the land of steaks and barbecue, but the large number of patrons who frequent King and I testify that there is a hunger for Asian food in West Texas that goes beyond the typical Chinese buffet.

King and I Thai Cuisine was recommended by a West Texan I met through my webpage, and I can well understand why this restaurant would command a strong loyalty from its fans. I sensed the same kind of loyalty from the customers who were there, many of whom seemed to be regular visitors and knew exactly what they wanted to order upon being seated.

King and I occupies a small building that looks like a converted fast food restaurant, and it was completely full at lunch time with cars lined up at the take-out window outside. The tables were close together but not cramped. It was not what I would call an upscale restaurant, but ads were placed on the tables indicating that a rather elaborate dinner would be available as a special on Valentine’s Day. I suspect that if guys wanted to wear jeans to the special dinner it would be just fine.

The good thing about having a lot of regular customers is that they seemed to come in and out fairly quickly, opening up tables at a rapid rate. The service was prompt and the waitresses were willing to make suggestions for those who were not already familiar with the food.The waitress I talked to seemed quite knowledgeable, and not only told me what was popular, but also what she considered to be representative of typical Thai food.

Thai Tea
I started out ordering Thai Tea, a creamy blend of tea that is served in almost all Thai restaurants, but not all are as good as at King and I. The glass was filled with enough ice to keep the tea cold, and the ingredients were in the correct proportions so that it did not end up with anything floating on top or settling to the bottom. My only complaint was that I wish there had been more of the tea once I started eating some extremely hot chiles with the meal, but the serving was actually the same size I normally find at Thai restaurants.

Main Dishes
The next step was to choose from among the varied types of food that were available, from salads to curries to noodles. Some lunch specials were being served but since I recognized most of the items on the regular menu as being the dishes I find at most of the better Thai restaurants, I wanted to get one of these.

Pad thai

Pad thai

The waitress recommended the Pad Thai as being one of the better noodle dishes, and one that she liked. My insider information had also recommended the pad thai, so this was enough to overcome my normal reluctance to order a dish that is many times modified for American tastes in too many of the Thai restaurants I have visited. This was a grayish-brown version that might have been as bland as many others I have tried, but turned out to have the full rich flavors of the spices Thais use to make their noodle dishes interesting. It had a “sweet spot” on top where sugar had been added, and a lime was supplied for a citrus flavor. I ordered the one with chicken, and it was of good quality. It came with cabbage on the side, something that I am pretty sure is a Thai tradition rather than being based on popular request by American customers (I happened to like the cabbage).

Side Dishes

Panang curry

Panang curry

In an effort to get a more complete sample of the restaurant’s food, I ordered a small bowl of Panang Curry with white rice. In terms of quantity the pad thai would have been plenty, but I am glad I got the extra flavor of this side dish. First, I was quite impressed that they were even willing to serve me a small portion of curry without charging a price that would have been close to ordering a second meal. Additionally, I was impressed with the curry itself. It was thin and runny (my only complaint), but the flavor was rich and smooth. I am not prone to heartburn, but this seemed to be the type of curry that would not bother people with sensitive stomachs. Many of the rather bad curries I have experienced have been in various cities throughout Texas, and I was surprised to find such a good one in the rather small city of Midland.

Overall Impressions
The Thai chiles I got as a condiment for the pad thai were serious in terms of both heat and flavor. The curry was only medium hot, and the pad thai itself was quite mild without the chiles being added. I know eating Thai food in West Texas is not the same as being in Bangkok, and I believe the restaurant has made an accommodation by making the food less spicy than is normally found in Thai restaurants. After I got the extra condiments, though, I was quite happy with the result. I believe if I were to order a curry dish I would ask them to make it more spicy, though.

I was impressed by what is on the menu, and I believe there are many good things to try here.


RATING: 22
Cuisine: Thai
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No Smoking
 
Most Recent Visit: Feb. 12, 2008
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Pad Thai, Thai Tea
 

 

Asian Food Details
Tea: Jasmine/ Thai Tea
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Pad Thai
star 4 Panang Curry
star 5 Thai Tea

Ly’s Cafe–Amarillo, TX

Ly’s Cafe
5615 E. Amarillo Blvd.
Amarillo, TX
(806) 383-1569
Ly's Cafe

Ly’s Cafe


Northeast Amarillo has a concentration of restaurants within about a three block area that serve Lao food, and I have only heard of a handful of cities in North America with a similar concentration of this type of cuisine. My first experience trying food from Laos was at Houang’s Restaurant, which was in the building now occupied by Ly’s Cafe, so this made me very curious to see if the food at Ly’s was as good as I remembered. I have now had the chance to try several of Amarillo’s Lao restaurants (some of which are now closed), and I can say that Ly’s ranks among the best.

Ly’s Cafe is located behind Thai House in the 5600 block of E. Amarillo Blvd. The area has been spruced up quite a bit since I first visited Houang’s in 2003, but it is obvious that this strip shopping center had been in bad decline before the influx of Asian restaurants and shops. The video stores in the shopping center sell Thai and Lao music, and other restaurants offer Thai and Vietnamese food.

Ly’s Cafe has a smaller Lao menu than Houang’s, its predecessor, but quite a few Thai dishes have been added. Lao and Thai food have different flavors, but Lao restaurants seem to be able to prepare Thai food very well, so I am sure that would be a good choice at Ly’s. I usually find Chinese food at Lao or Thai restaurants to be mostly an accommodation to Americans or people who cannot eat the spicy food from Southeast Asia, but I cannot apply this statement to Ly’s until I try some of its Chinese dishes. Since Chinese food is available almost everywhere, and Lao food is quite hard to find, I will probably stick with the Lao food on subsequent visits.

All of the restaurants on this strip of Amarillo Boulevard seem to stay open late, and in the case of Ly’s Cafe I think they close at 10 p.m. There are certainly not enough immigrants from Southeast Asia in Amarillo to keep all these restaurants in business, and I have observed people of many different ethnic groups enjoying the food at the places I have gone. Although I was not able to taste the full range of food served at Ly’s (from non-spicy Chinese food to somewhat spicy Thai noodles to spicy Lao food), I saw enough tables ordering different types of food to know that the owners are used to accommodating people with all kinds of tastes. If you are hesitant to order Lao food because you do not know what it is like, that should not stop you from at least coming to Ly’s and see what they have to offer. The spiciness is prepared to the customer’s taste, and they will not serve spicy food to anyone who does not want it.

Each table at Ly’s has a picture of a different Lao dish, and this should be very helpful in trying to decide what to order if you want to try Lao food. I definitely think it helps to see what you are ordering, and they realize that this type of food is new to many people. Looking at the pictures may not be very effective if all the tables have customers, but they will probably figure out a way to let you see what you want to order.

Chicken Soup

Chicken soup

Chicken soup

Chicken Soup seems like a good choice to start out a Lao meal, but surprisingly, Ly’s Cafe was the first place I have had chicken soup that I really thought had all the flavors that I could imagine Lao food would offer. This one was made with lemongrass, tomatoes, and other aromatic vegetables. It was not spicy, and I think it is one of the foods Lao people eat when they have had enough spicy food. The flavors, though, were pure Southeast Asian.

Lap

Lap Kai

Lap Kai

Chicken Lap (pronounced with a long “a” as in “laap”) is a traditional Lao dish that is also found in many Thai restaurants. In the case of Ly’s I know this is a Lao dish because it is listed on the Lao menu, and also because I asked. Lao dishes tend to be more salty than sweet, and this one had the distinguishing flavors I have found previously with lap. Mint, lime, and spices add a sharp taste to the ground meat, so that this is not a taste I think most people will have to acquire, but one which they will thoroughly enjoy (at least when this dish is prepared correctly). Cucumbers and lettuce are served on the side, and are a big part of the flavor mix of this dish, so I would say if you do not like lettuce or cucumbers it would probably be best to try something else.

In my past experience, restaurants have not been as successful in preparing chicken lap as the beef version, so I was very pleased with the result at Ly’s. The meat was well cooked, and was good quality, but cut into very small pieces. I usually think of ground meat as inferior, but this was more like small chunks without the fat or grease sometimes associated with ground meat. I think the small pieces gave the meat more of a chance to absorb the flavors of the sauce and spices, so this was a good thing.

Unless you are sure you want the lap spicy, they serve it mild, and let you add your own chile. I used some fish sauce with chiles to give it the flavor I had experienced with other versions, and it was not only good, but possibly the best lap I have ever had. I was a little bit disturbed that I was not offered the fish sauce until I specifically asked for it, not because it was a problem for me, but because others eating Lao food for the first time may not know to ask for it. Still, I thought the lap was so good I think others will enjoy it even if they get the default mild version (and other chiles are available on the table to make it spicy).

An order of Sticky Rice is traditional with this dish, but I thought the rice was too dry and was not good for dipping into the sauce as I understand is the custom with Lao food. With everything else being so good, this was the one down point to the meal.

Drinks
Several kinds of Thai tea and iced drinks are available. Even though Lao food tends to not contain sugar, the same is not true with the drinks. I tried the hot jasmine tea, though, with my meal.

Final Thoughts
One of the big advantages of Ly’s Cafe over other restaurants that serve Lao food is that there is no smoking, while other places have separate dining areas for smokers and non-smokers. I prefer an atmosphere in which smoke will not be coming from tables in another section of the building, so to me Ly’s offers the best chance to enjoy the meal.

Although Ly’s Cafe lists “Thai” cuisine first on its sign, it is the only restaurant I have found in Amarillo that I could say is primarily a Lao restaurant (although other places serve Lao food). The only difference this really makes is in the choices of dishes that are offered, and judging more from the pictures of items on the tables than the actual menu, I do believe Ly’s has a good choice of Lao food. I certainly know that I was not disappointed with the meal I had.


RATING: 23
Cuisine: Lao & Thai
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Mon.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No Smoking
 
Most Recent Visit: Nov. 19, 2009
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Lap, Chicken Soup
 

 

Asian Food Details
Tea: Jasmine (bags)/ Thai Tea
MSG: N/A
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Lap Kai
star 5 Chicken Soup
star 3 Sticky Rice