Tag Archives: spicy

ZEN CURRY HOUSE (express): A big bowl of happy.

Trying new things used to be one of the scariest things for me, mostly because I grew up as a very picky eater.  Now I set a policy where I have to try everything once, which usually isn’t a tough thing for me.  One thing that I think picky eaters have some sort of crazy preconception of is curry from any type of cuisine.

I’ve talked about Indian and Thai curries here before, but never Japanese (which I didn’t even know was a thing until a few years ago).  Apparently there are a lot of people who believe that the spices in Japanese curries prevent many diseases and illnesses, so it is at this time that I must admit something I’ve never told the general public.  I suffer from hungryitis and Zen Curry saved my life.  *sigh* It feels good to get that off my chest.

Luckily, Zen has multiple locations.  I live nearby to its southwest location, which has the same compact menu as its original, but is a small space with no full service.  I was happy to bus my own plate for a stomachful of tasty curry, so off I went.

Oh, hey, a new restaurant!  What’s this place sell?

curry
Click me.

AAHHHHH.  BURN IT.  SEND IT TO HELL. (I really, really hate sushi burritos.)

Right next door is our restaurant du jour.

Express yourself.

Right inside, it’s pretty much barebones.  4-5 small tables with chairs, a really tiny bar and a kitchen extending as far back as the restaurant will go.  The menu is 3 sizes of curry, 3 sizes of rice and a meat choice along with a few small side dishes.  You can also customize spice level and be forewarned, cause this shit is FIRE.  This stuff goes up to “revenge for the a-bomb” level spicy.  I went with a pork katsu large curry with white rice and a side of gyoza (potstickers).

While waiting five minutes for my food, I took a second to take in the atmosphere.  Christmas music, stockings on the wall, and a Christmas tree in the corner?

This is like a diner in Oklahoma with a buddha on every table.

This sounds like it has some backstory or is some weird level of pandering, so I didn’t ask too many questions.  I didn’t have long to think about it though, because my food came up real quick.

They did not wrap my present.

The gyoza were fine.  They were deep fried, there were only 4 of them to an order and they were fairly small for a $5 side dish.  The ponzu they came with was definitely the highlight but the little container was so small it was hard to really dip them without spilling it everywhere.  I probably will order something else next time or skip them altogether, since they seem to be on the menu just to be able to say they have them.

Luckily, my tiny gyoza were overshadowed by the veritable Lake Loch Ness of curry that arrived next.

NESSIE WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOU

The focus of this plate is definitely on the curry itself and not the meat.  I will admit, it’s not the most attractive plate of food.  Brown on brown is not an attractive look for a plate.  Almost all of the meats provided are deep fried which really cuts down on the flavor impact they have on the dish, but that doesn’t even really matter because the curry is the star.  Japanese flavors are traditionally pretty subtle and though this dish was no exception, it’s incredibly hard to stop eating once you take the first bite.  I ordered a spicy level 7 which was enough to get me needing extra napkins and a bunch of drinks.  I’ve heard there are secret levels of spicy beyond 10, but even a 7 is usually enough to get a look of “uh, really?” when you’re as white as I am.

Me hanging with my bros.

Japanese Curry uses a different set of base spices for their curry powder than other forms of cooking, but it’s very high in cardamom which has kind of a citrus flavor which results in a much different taste than you might expect.  This feels very much like eating a big bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy with a piece of turkey or chicken (in a good way).  When it’s getting cold outside, it’s very nice to just settle in a big bowl of Japanese comfort food (and a good prescription for Hungryitis. I’m cured!  It’s a miracle!)

Overall, I definitely recommend checking out Zen.  It’s not the most mindblowing experience, but when you want something comforting and spicy for not much cash, this is a quick meal that can get the job done.  I paid $18 for this pile of food and a drink, but a normal human sized portion can be had for under $12.

Zen Curry House (2 locations)

5020 #1 Spring Mountain Road, Las Vegas, NV, 89146

Tel: 1-702-985-1192

Open: 11:30am-11pm

7835 S Rainbow Blvd. #9, Las Vegas, NV 89139

Tel:702-912-4404

Open: 11:30am-11pm

CHADA THAI & WINE: “Tie good, you like shirt?”

When it comes to Thai food, Lotus of Siam has always been the most lauded of Vegas’s small offstrip restaurants but it has always had a bunch of problems with it.  It’s usually slammed with tourists making it hard to get reservations, it has steadily grown more expensive as time goes on, the menu is MASSIVE and impossible for first time patrons to navigate, (OXFORD COMMA UP IN THIS SHIT) and in a city known for 24/7 grub, you can never get a seating past 10 PM.  Lotus needed an upgrade, and thanks to one of its sommeliers (wine nerd) deciding to open up his own place, we now have Chada Thai.

AND WHAT AN UPGRADE IT WAS.

I’m not going to pretend this is my first time here.  It might be closer to my 50th time here.

Chada Thai is king of Vegas strip mall food.  It’s next to a bunch of other Asian restaurants on the western side of what they call Chinatown but what is closer to Asiatown.  Every complaint I have with Lotus is fixed with Chada.  It’s a small, intimate space.  It’s open late, with a small and easy to master menu.  And even if you have a tendency to over order (not saying I do but oh dear god yes I do), it is very hard to ever spend more than $35 apiece on food alone.  My particular menu choices at this point are almost set in stone, choosing between a few dishes depending on the size of our party.  These are some of my staples.

Chada Thai - Fresh Oysters
Fresh Oysters

I was never huge on oysters.  They seem to be a lot like cheese and wine, something with a huge range and it takes a very particular palate to be able to distinguish great from bad. The snobbish eschew toppings in favor of tasting the oyster as it is, but Chada tops theirs with chili paste and fried garlic amongst other things. It’s hard not to say it’s an improvement over the base model.  At $2/oyster, it’s certainly not something you could go broke over.

Chada Thai - Tom Kha Kai
Tom Kha Kai

Their Tom Kha Kai is the best I’ve ever tasted. Large pieces of mushroom, chicken and thai basil in an extremely tangy broth.  This is the perfect soup to nurse you back to health when you’re sick (mostly because it’s spicy enough to get your nose running almost instantly).  If I had a terrible day, coming here and sipping on a bowl of this soup would do a good job of making the world a little better.

Chada Thai - Pad Kra Pow
Pad Kra Pow

The Pad Kra Pow is likely my favorite dish. For a long time, I was unaware of its existence until a friend of mine told me you could make an off menu meat choice for it.  When combined with the roasted and then fried pork belly, this dish hits an absolute home run.  It’s a slightly spicy, thai basil infused sauce with meat with texture unlike anything you’ve ever had before.  It took me probably three or four trips before I truly fell in love with it, but I cannot imagine ever showing up and not ordering it.  10/10 would pork again.

Chada Thai - Duck Panang
Duck Panang

The duck Panang is probably the dish that most people fall in love with their first time.  Panang is a kind of curry, but instead of the usual coconut milk, Chada uses coconut cream instead which makes a much thicker sauce which works well with such a small portion.  The duck is done the same way the crispy pork is, first roasted and then fried.  The result is crispness bordering on tempura.  One of the most expensive dishes on the menu at $18, but it is typically the first dish in a large group to order multiple of.  If you go here, do NOT leave without trying this dish.

Chada Thai - Moo Khum Waan
Moo Khum Waan

Last but not least is the Moo Khum Waan.  Among my friends, it generally remains in the middle of the pack in terms of preference but don’t let that make you think it’s anything but great.  Pork loin grilled with a garlic and mint chili sauce, this is the perfect way to cool down your mouth after the more spicy dishes you’ve had before it.  If you have someone with you who refuses to eat spicy food, this would be the dish to serve them.  It’s also interesting to see the two drastically different ways to serve pork between this and the Pad Kra Pow.

This is just the start of the menu.  There are many other dishes that I’ve left out that are worth of being spoken of.  I may seem like a shill for them but they truly do represent the best of what Vegas offstrip cuisine has to offer.  I’m not going to do a rating scale, but on a scale of “Don’t go there” to “Go there,” I give them a “Why aren’t you there yet?”

Address: 3400 S Jones Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89146

Phone: (702) 641-1345

Hours: Open Tuesday – Sunday · 5:00 pm – 3:00 am