In Canada, the distribution of good Thai restaurants is a bit of a strange thing. Some cities seem to have a great collection of Thai restaurants, and some don’t. Edmonton, oft-maligned for a variety reasons, certainly has a fantastic collection of Thai restaurants. Syphay in the south, to Boualong and Viphalay in the North, these are all great restaurants – though they are all Thai food by way of Laos. Even your generic Thai restaurant, Bua Thai, or Ban Thai are reasonably good. Why? I honestly couldnt tell you. However, what I do know is this does not mean that we don’t have our share of questionable places either. But for the most part, it’s all pretty decent.
Bankok Express is located in Argyll Plaza – an odd assortment of businesses and hotel, it can be pretty easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. Bangkok Express is conceptually more Thai than many other Edmonton Thai restaurants – serving fast, cheap, and fresh food. With no dish over 10 dollars, the price point is fantastic for a cuisine that shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. I’ve always been a bit offended by the prices at establishments like the King and I – nice decor doesnt justify double the prices for half the food.
The interior of Bangkok Express is clean and cafeteria like. You order from a counter with an open kitchen, wait for your order to be called, and pick it up. Things flow fast, and are served fairly promptly, dishes hot. With a limited menu, there is very little time wasted. They could be a bit faster, but i appreciate the extra time they put into cooking everything.
On cold days, i find nothing more soothing than a bowl of soup – preferably, something spicy. Any version of Tom Yum is a great soup for this – light, spicy broth whose heat and acidity evoke memories of warmth, and sunny days. My preference is usually Tom Yum Khaa, but the non-coconut version is usually good too. Unfortuately, the version here is not. The vegetables are reasonably fresh, but the broth is limp, the balance is missing, and it lacks a lot of the subtle undertones that make Tom Yum so memorable. Not enough heat. Not enough acidity, not enough fish sauce, and in general, just a poor bowl.
I ordered the Pad Thai as well, and this was slightly better. The noodles were hot, and had a nice chew, and the peanuts were fragrant and fresh. But once again, the flavour was uniformly oily, and bland. From my standpoint, the brilliance of Thai food lies in balancing key, essential flavours. Pungent, heat, and acidity, along with the textures of crisp, and chewy. This dish lacked any pungency, any heat, and no real acidity. Thoroughly disappointing, considering how simple a wok fried noodle should be.
Considering Bangkok Express is, according to published reviews, run by Thai people (i’ve never been able to distinguish based on language alone), i have to say im pretty disappointed with the outcome. It’s like everything has been taken down 3 notches in order to appease the clientele near their location. After reading many reviews, I was genuinely looking forward to this. “This is how we ate in Thailand!” they would gush. Makes me wonder where they were eating, as this food was really sub par. Thai food is generally fairly basic – and excellent eateries in town manage to demonstrate this on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, Bangkok Express is not one of them.