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Thai Fare on Student Budget

Jay Fitzpatrick | Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Notre Dame may have found its new great student restaurant: Thai Lao Food.Nestled among other more well-known eateries like K’s Grill, Between the Buns and J.W. Chen’s is this small Asian restaurant that seems perfect to cater to college-aged patrons.Although the restaurant does offer a menu, the best bang for your buck is likely the buffet, which sits in the corner of the small dining room.The buffet offers several items found on the menu – including Thai barbecue chicken, chicken curry and Pad Thai – in addition to some Asian restaurant staples, like egg rolls and vegetable stir fry. Off to the right-hand side of the buffet are two rice cookers, one with fried rice and the other with white rice.The food, while simple, was also delicious. The different types of chicken – all dark meat (legs and thighs) – were cooked to perfection and were very tender. They were also seasoned well, and were not as spicy as Thai food often is. (If you do like your food a little hotter, Thai Lao has a variety of hot sauces near the buffet to add to your dish).The Thai barbecue was the best chicken dish at the buffet, which is not the say that the other dishes were not also good. The sauce was savory, mostly because it was not overpowering. Similar to the hot sauce, there was additional barbecue sauce available.The most pleasantly surprising thing about the food at Thai Lao was that they did the little things right, like rice and egg rolls.The egg rolls – actually more like spring rolls – were not as greasy as they can be at other restaurants, while still maintaining a strong flavor. Also, both kinds of rice were a perfect complement to the chicken dishes. The fried rice had a perfect amount of vegetables to contribute to the flavor of the rice without being overpowering. The sauces used to stir-fry the rice was delicious, adding a lot to the rice’s flavor. The white rice was about as good as white rice can be, but what added to it was its texture. Unlike many white rices at restaurants, Thai Lao’s is stickier, making it easier to eat with a fork or chopsticks (both of which Thai Lao offers).Although you can easily fill up on the main dishes at the buffet, try to save some room for dessert: a rice-based dish from the Philippines called cassava, which tastes like rice pudding covered in caramel.While the food was very tasty, perhaps the best part of the buffet is the price. At $5.99 for weeknights and $6.99 for weekends (prices are the same for lunch and dinner), the Thai Lao buffet compares favorably with other off-campus eateries, like Chipotle ($6.25 for a burrito) or Golden Dragon ($6.35 for most dinners).The decor, while sparse, fits the restaurant. The walls are decorated with only a few pieces, and the theme of the art – if there is one – is elephants. There are some traditional pieces of décor in the room, such as a bamboo screen just inside the door, but otherwise the dining room is Spartan, with just a few tables and chairs.One of the things that makes Thai Lao Food a perfect college hangout, however, was what was on the two televisions – one in each in opposite corners. At first, Adam Sandler’s movie “The Waterboy” was playing, followed by “Project A,” a 1987 Jackie Chan movie from his Hong Kong days.Overall, the food combined with a relaxed atmosphere and affordable price to make Thai Lao Food a great off-campus choice.