Review No. 36: Bai Tong Thai Cuisine
605 Salem Road, Suite 9
21.3 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants
She Said: I was HUNGRY after running errands and spending some time at physical therapy the morning we decided that this was the day for Bai Tong Thai Cuisine. I’m always in the mood to eat one of my favorite dishes produced on this planet, pad Thai. We arrived at the restaurant in a strip mall in a little pocket of Conway Flatlandia near Kroger Marketplace around 11:20 a.m., because I just could not wait!
He Said: Yeah, turn north at the intersection on College and Salem and you find a plethora of little restaurants in strip malls. A place like Bai Tong is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle, as just another little place in that jumble. But this is the only Thai restaurant in Conway, and that alone makes it stand out.
She Said: Bai Tong is pleasant, with some very interesting Thai art on the walls. It’s not a very big place, so it feels cozy. Staffers are generally friendly and hospitable, so I always feel comfortable here, whether I’m dining in or picking something up.
He Said: It is fairly small and reasonably comfortable. The paintings on the wall look a little like the Thai equivalents of black velvet Elvis paintings to me. But the Buddhist busts or masks are quite interesting.
She Said: Well, they don’t have a full bar here or beer and wine, which was fine for our early lunch, but is one reason I sometimes have their food delivered or call in for pick up. But they do have some interesting offerings, and this time I tried something new, the chrysanthemum tea. Apparently, this tea is made from steeping the dried flowers in hot water, and sugar and berries may be added to the brew. I loved it! The sweetness was a shadow in the flavor mix, instead of being the overwhelming taste experience. It tasted fresh, light and healthy, though sweeter than what I usually order. I will order that again. It was delicious.
He Said: I had my go-to green tea that I typically have at Asian restaurants. But after taking a sip of your chrysanthemum tea, Jones, I’m gonna be all over that next time I eat here.
She Said: If Bai Tong only had the two things I ordered on their menu, I would still go (or want to go) all the time to this little Thai palace of deliciousness. My appetizer for lunch was the fresh spring rolls with shrimp. These are rolled in rice paper and offer a portable salad within, each having two pieces of shrimp inside. This comes with a peanut sauce that livens everything up just perfectly. If I’m really watching calories, I order this alone for lunch, and it makes a perfectly pleasing mild repast with greens, lean protein and plenty of flavor.
As I said, I was craving pad Thai (which basically means “fried Thai style”), and I knew the menu well enough to have plotted my meal, except for the tea, before we arrived. Pad Thai is made by stir-frying rice noodles with eggs and tamarind pulp, fish sauce, garlic, red pepper and sugar. I’ve always had it served with chopped peanuts, as well. This means this dish contains things I love very much and could live on every day. Those noodles! Fried with eggs! And nuts! Bai Tong garnishes theirs with cilantro or parsley. As do many eateries that offer pad Thai, you can choose your protein from several animal proteins or tofu. I prefer the tofu over the other options for many reasons, but the No. 1 reason is taste. Tofu soaks up all those delightful flavors so nicely, and it’s satisfying instead of overly filling. (I will say the tofu I cook at home is a little tastier than Bai Tong’s, but I’ll let Ruud give the final say on that matter.) Pad Thai is something I can make at home, but it’s not as good as Bai Tong’s and it is a lot more trouble; in fact, I think it’s the best pad Thai I’ve had in central Arkansas. I got full before I finished it, though, and it broke my noodle-loving heart to leave what I did on the plate. It was delicious. It comes with a little egg roll in sweet and sour sauce. I had a bite of this as well, but I was saving room for the main event.
He Said: Oh, your marinated tofu is better, Jones. Many a restaurant could take a lesson from you. But I digress. I’m not usually a great fan of Thai food, partly because they use peanuts in a lot of dishes and peanuts are on my no-no list as unfriendly to the pancreas. But not many of the dishes here necessarily have nuts, and today I opted for the pad mixed vegetables, which gives you a variety of stir-fried vegetables (with cabbage being the most plentifully represented). You can have it with a choice of white or brown rice, and a choice of chicken, beef, or tofu for $8, or shrimp for $9.
My choice was brown rice and tofu, and I wasn’t disappointed. I got a healthy, low-fat lunch that was really tasty and not too heavy. The fact that you have the choice of so many different kinds of protein for each of these lunch meals is one of the particularly delightful things about ordering at Bai Tong.
She Said: I always find the service here gracious and solicitous, but not overly so. We waited a little while to be seated, but we were here pretty early, and I think we were the first or second table they seated that day. I have no complaints from any of our visits!
He Said: I second that. The staff did their job in a timely manner but didn’t hover. No complaints about the service.
What We Got and What We Paid: Fresh spring roll with shrimp, tofu pad Thai and pad mixed vegetables with tofu, with green tea and chrysanthemum tea for $33.43.
She Said: I love Bai Tong! I love to dine-in or take-it-away because it’s the best pad Thai in the region, and the service is solid and hospitable.
He Said: It’s a nice change of pace, and if you’re in the mood for something stir fried, you can get a good variety of such dishes here.
So…He Said and She Said: Feed your Thai food cravings at this friendly little eatery.Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.