Editor’s note: Here’s the first in our new series, Hidden Gems, in which we take a look at those restaurants you should know about but may not. They are either tucked away in strip malls or otherwise off the beaten path. Try them out, and if you like what you eat, pass the word.
Let’s skip the part where we pretend we’re shocked that there’s good food in a strip mall. And let’s skip the part, too, where we use that as a descriptor, as if a strip mall restaurant couldn’t possibly stand up to a trending, downtown, standalone one simply because of its implied handicap of being adjacent to a dry cleaner and a Great Clips. Or — gasp — maybe even residing in the suburbs.
Let’s talk about J’s Noodles & New Thai on Parker Road (not to be confused with — but how can it not be? — J’s Noodles Star Thai on Federal Boulevard) like it’s a normal restaurant. Because, of course, it is. Judy Teawdeswan has run both J’s Noodles Thai restaurants over the past couple decades, but for the last 12 years, she’s been at the Parker Road location, after selling the Federal Boulevard spot to her nephew.
The recipes at the two J’s, she insisted, are not the same. I’ve enjoyed both restaurants, but New Thai (we’ll call it that for clarity, but really there’s nothing new about it), is the one I most recently visited, and the food was so good, and the prices so worrisomely cheap, that more people should know about it.
Most everything on the menu is $9.95, and considering I can’t even drive 50 miles for $9.95 anymore–which is exactly how far New Thai is from my house and back — that speaks to both its value and quality. To find anything at that price, let alone one of the most fiery, nutty Panang curries and sweetest, most flavor-packed Massaman curries I’ve had, is a win. And come on, have you looked around at the world lately? Let’s take a curry win when we can get one.
You’ll pay a dollar more for fresh noodles, but get them in your creamy, yellow curry-based Bangkok noodles or tangy Country Pad Thai because, well, if someone is offering you fresh, handmade, labor-intensive noodles for a buck, you’d best be taking them up on that.
If the BBQ Chicken is available, you’ll probably want to get that too. The half bird is cut into chunks of juicy, lemongrass- and garlic-tinged pieces of dark and white meat, served with a sweet chili sauce. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on regional Thai street food or anything, but New Thai’s version, in spite of being cooked in an oven before getting a quick pan-char (as opposed to being grilled over the traditional charcoal), has that same back-alley appeal, the thrill of discovering something both different and familiar.
Two more things you need to know about J’s Noodles & New Thai: It’s still takeout only, and it’s spicy. So if you live 25 miles away like I do, you’ll need to find a place at which to eat, and yes, your car is perfectly acceptable for noodle slurping and chicken gnawing. And if, also like I do, you typically order your food on the hot side, take it down a notch here. Hot is HOT.
Teawdeswan tells anyone who will listen that the restaurant has been struggling. Business is down a lot, and only a few people trickled in over the 30 minutes or so I spent there at prime dinner time last week. But hopefully more people will come to J’s–the normal restaurant in the normal strip mall with abnormally good, cheap food.
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