On any given night, when folks are sitting around wondering what they're going to do for dinner in Baltimore, the suggestion of Thai Arroy will stop the dithering.
"Sure," everyone says, "let's go there."
Since its 2002 opening in Federal Hill, Thai Arroy has held remarkably steady. The menu is an ordinary one, as American Thai restaurants go. That's not a knock. The food is well-prepared, fresh and attractively presented. The sauces without exception have deep, rich flavors that suggest long simmering, or at least the know-how to make them taste that way.
But the specialty at Thai Arroy is consistency, which is how a restaurant gets itself into a city's heart and winds up on personal lists of go-to places.
As for Thai Arroy's atmosphere, it will depend on how you see things. In my mind's eye at least, Thai Arroy is a pretty and cheerful place. So I was surprised on a recent visit when a friend said he thought it was a little drab. I suppose it is, but the murals painted on the room's two long walls are attractive enough to make you not notice the drop ceiling so much.
Plus, everything on the table is so pretty. Thai Arroy makes good use of blue-and-white, lotus-patterned plates and serving bowls, which are restful things for tired eyes to look upon. The plates look even better with food on them.
Thai Arroy is the kind of place where people, myself included, have their standbys. So it was fun for us, on a recent visit, to try out some of each other's favorites and a few new things. I'm sold now on the chive dumplings, two thick savory dumplings stuffed with chives and glazed, like hot cross buns, with a spicy red sauce. And everyone will like the fresh spring rolls stuffed with lettuce, crunchy cucumber, aromatic cilantro and refreshing mint.
I was already a fan of Thai Arroy's version of som tum, a pretty and crunchy salad of green beans, tomatoes, carrots, flavored with lime juice and chilies and tossed with shrimp and julienned strips of green papaya. And now I can sing the praises of the hoy ob, steamed mussels bathed in a broth of lemon grass- and lime-scented chili sauce. Be sure to order a side bowl of rice to throw into the broth.
For their entrees, most diners will be content to stay in the middle of the menu, which features traditional Thai restaurant preparations of stir fries and curries. The price for these preparations changes, depending on what the diner chooses to add — less for things like tofu, chicken and pork; more for seafood and duck.
A vegetarian friend loves that Thai Arroy offers the option of mock duck, a vegetarian protein made from wheat gluten; he loves it especially added into Thai Arroy's slurp-y and spicy version of drunken noodles — it's become his favorite vegetarian dish in town. Another friend had to be talked out of mock duck, and into the real duck, which he added to gang dang, a red curry with carrots, string beans, carrots and basil.
For fun, we tried a few dishes from the back of the menu, where Thai restaurants keep their chef's specialties and high-priced entrees. There was a blockbuster: pra chu chee, a red curry dish to which a diner could add either fried shrimp or fish — or both — that was served in an oversized vessel that barely fit on the table. This we loved, because we kept finding more fish and more shrimp. And there was a soft-shell crab entree in which you chose the accompanying sauce. We liked this less, because the crab was over-fried.
If it's a weekend evening, be prepared for a wait. Thai Arroy's enduring popularity hasn't led to a reservations system. And be sure to show up with a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer. Thai Arroy's BYOB policy has kept it a favorite in the affordable-eats category.
Rating: 3 stars
Where: 1019 Light St., Federal Hill
Contact: 410-385-8587, http://www.thaiarroy.com
Open: Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday
Prices: Appetizers $5-$9; entrees $10-$23
Food: Classic Thai menu, BYOB
Service: Friendly and quick
Best dishes: Steamed mussels with lemongrass and lime, chive dumpling, drunken noodles
Parking: On-street parking
Children: There are no items marked for children.
Noise level/television: It's actually more pleasant once it fills up with human chatter. No televisions.
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars ; Excellent: 4 stars; Very Good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun