Driving through Houston there is an excellent chance that at some point you will pass by Nit Noi Thai restaurant. With five locations scattered through various neighborhoods, the restaurant is easily accessible to a good segment of the populace. But despite being relatively ubiquitous, Nit Noi Thai is often dismissed as just another middle of the road Thai restaurant. And while it’s true that some of their dishes are satisfying but nothing special, there are many hidden gems on their menu that are worth your indulgence. Conveniently, almost all of them have unique monikers, making them easy to remember.
For example, those who order the intriguingly titled Hiding Rice will be amused when a fluffy large omelet emerges shielding a bottom layer of garlicky fried rice. I also like their Tiger Cried, strips of grilled steak swimming in a jalapeno sauce redolent of lime and coriander, which has a latent heat that will have you sweating then weeping if you eat too quickly.
If you enjoyed three too many Mai Tai’s at Lei Low last night, you might try Nit Noi’s putt-thai kee-mao (aka #5 Hang-ver), with rice noodles stir-fried with chili paste, red bell peppers, and onion. It comes with your choice of protein (chicken, shrimp, pork), but I suggest the basil beef as the additional vitamin K from the herb will ease that backache you got from sleeping on your friend’s sofa.
The King and I
My favorite of Nit Noi’s playfully named plates, however, is The King and I, tender pieces of steamed red snapper dressed in aromatic peppery tomato sauce atop a bed of fried rice studded with large chunks of crabmeat. It’s a lovely combination of botanical and oceanic flavors that seems like it would taste even better eaten at twilight with a view of the beach. (Don’t worry, it’s still great if you’re gazing out over Montrose as the sun sets.)
Along with the aforementioned hits, there are some significant misses such as the Everyday Rice, which arrived with an overcooked egg and tasted more of oil than anything else. Skip also the hot and sour soup (an incongruous entry in the otherwise entirely Thai menu) and spring rolls, for far better versions can be found elsewhere. Internet buzz suggests that staples such as the pad thai and tom young gong soup are solid at some locations but lacking at others; again more reason to stick to their specials.
Although Nit Noi provides excellent takeout, dining in, at least at the Richmond branch, allows you to enjoy the colorful Thai paintings that adorn the peaceful dining room. Staffed by soft-spoken, efficient employees, this eating space is an oasis if you have been wrangling the crowds at the Galleria for four hours prior to your meal.