The King & I has been a South Grand landmark in South City for years, establishing itself as the place to go for authentic Thai food. Always bustling, the restaurant clientele is a melting pot of urbanites, suburbanites, hipsters and the decidedly un-hip, all coming together for a taste of Thailand. We stopped in recently for a long overdue meal and immediately wondered why it had been so long between visits.
The menu has plenty of smaller fare to start off with. We went with a trio of favorites that span the variety of ingredients and flavors of Thai cuisine: the King & I Fresh Rolls ($4), Satay ($8), and a cup of Tom Yum soup ($5). The rolls are full of crisp vegetables and plump shrimp wrapped up in rice paper, served cold. We got the chicken satay, though pork or a combo of both also are options. This signature Thai dish is basically skewered grilled meat. Spice and heat typically are the elements that are associated with Thai food, but this dish showcases the softer side of the cuisine. The meat is marinated in coconut milk for some sweetness, and it's served with a mild peanut cucumber sauce. We can't eat at a Thai restaurant without ordering some Tom Yum soup, and the version and King & I is a standout. We opted for tofu in ours, though chicken can be subbed, as well. This spicy soup is full of mushrooms, chilies, lemongrass with a little cilantro. Flavor-wise, its extremely complex, running the gamut from spicy to sweet to sour and back again.
For our mains, the King & I Special ($15) and the Seafood Hotpot ($21) fit the bill nicely. Like our starters, they couldn't have been more different and really showcased all that Thai food has to offer for every palate. The special is a heaping portion of thin spaghetti stir-fried with chunks of shrimp and chicken, strips of calamari, crisp carrots, snow peas and bits of egg in a fairly mild sauce. This dish is a good gateway for those diners new to Thai cuisine, as it features a panoply of ingredients and flavors but is on the softer side, spice-wise. The hot pot, on the other hand, is anything but. Picture a shiny metal pot with a flame shooting up from the center, filled with all manner of delectable seafood from mussels to shrimp to squid, all swimming in a creamy, spicy broth. We ordered ours medium-spicy and found it to have more than enough heat. We cooled our tongues down with a frosty Singha lager ($4) and a glass of Marco Felluga Pinot Grigio ($10).
The menu at King & I has something for every taste, including a fairly extensive list of vegetarian options. We were there on a busy weekend evening; and despite the activity in the dining room, service was prompt and efficient. Thai food aficionados and neophytes alike will come away from the table satisfied.
-- 3157 South Grand Blvd., 771-1777, thaispicy.com.