The 1200 block of East Joppa Road in Towson has its share of bright, shiny chain restaurants, packed to the hilt with people eating the same old bland, homogenized food.
But right across the street, in a nondescript business park, sits Spice and Dice, a self proclaimed "Thai-Asian fusion" restaurant that serves vibrant, delicious food in an extremely colorful setting.
At first glance, the inside of Spice and Dice resembles a kindergarten classroom. The tables all have different tablecloths, and none of the chairs match in style or color. The restaurant shares a space with Legends Comic Book Store, and the barrier walls which separate the two are painted with bright tones and stenciled letters. (Lawan Fuangphon Williams runs Spice and Dice, while her husband, Randy Williams, owns Legends.)
Spice and Dice's decor is so playful you can't help but be in a good mood. When we went, the music ranged from cheesy '80s pop to operatic Christmas dirges — which also made for fun conversation.
We started off with glasses of Thai sweet ice tea ($2.95), a mix of red Thai tea and half and half. Though heavy, it was refreshing. The creamy tea helped stanch the heat from some of the spicier dishes to come. Also crisp was the ginger honey ice tea ($2.95), which had a ginger bite.
While anxious to take our orders, our server was absent for much of the night. We would have liked a few more drinks, but after the entrees were delivered, he disappeared, not to be seen again until we were practically finished the meal.
The grilled pork ($7.95) was made up of seasoned and skewered pork that while overcooked, was flavorful. A tamarind dipping sauce came topped with ground, toasted rice — which complemented the tangy tamarind and lent the pork skewers a crunchy texture.
An order of tiger sweep ($7.95), which sounded more like the title of an awesome Kung Fu movie than an appetizer, was fantastic. Char-grilled beef was mixed with herbs, onions, chili flakes and ground toasted rice and topped with a spicy lime dressing. This item disappeared quickly and was a well-rounded forkful of food.
The spring rolls ($4.95) were hot and crunchy — not greasy. They were made much better by a side of sweet chili sauce.
Most of the entrees are ordered by picking a meat first (pork, chicken, etc.), then matching it up with a recipe. The chicken drunken noodles ($12.95) were addictively hot, with chili peppers and flakes. Wide noodles and broccoli helped balance out the spiciness of the dish, but the heat was pleasantly inescapable.
The pork gang dang ($12.95), a red curry-based dish, had mild heat mixed with the clean notes of coconut milk and basil. String beans and bamboo shoots gave this tasty item its crunch.
The best dish of the night was the tamarind duck ($17.95). A mound of thinly sliced glazed duck was topped with crisp vegetables, fried onions, fried basil leaves and a sharp tamarind sauce. The combination of these savory ingredients created something more than the sum of its parts, and the generous portions made for great leftover the next day as well.
For dessert, a chocolate dumpling with vanilla ice cream ($4.95) was decadent without being over the top. Deep-fried dumplings containing chocolate and coconut were set upon a pool of chocolate sauce and anchored by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This is the kind of dessert that could easily have been too much, but here, it was portioned well.
The crispy banana rolls ($4.95) also featured coconut — but this time matched with banana in a spring roll wrapper. This deep-fried treat was paired with a butterscotch sauce and topped with black and white sesame seeds. The leftover chocolate sauce also went well with the bananas.
All told, Spice and Dice should be proud of its vibrant, delicious food. It's a welcome alternative to some of the boring chain restaurants nearby.
Spice and Dice
Back-story: A Thai restaurant that shares space with a comic book store, Spice and Dice serves hearty, spicy food in Towson.
Parking: Spice and Dice is in a business park with plenty of parking.
Signature dish: The tamarind duck was light, tart and meaty — a generous portion of thinly sliced glazed duck topped with crisp vegetables, fried onions, fried basil leaves and a sharp tamarind sauce.
Where: 1220 E. Joppa Rd #108, Towson
Contact: 410-494-8777, thaispiceanddice.com
Open: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, AMEX, Discover
[Key: Excellent: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]