There’s nothing like a great comeback story to cleanse the psychic palate, especially after that rotted animal corpse of a year we all just survived.
Back in October, Thai Pakse Restaurant (4045 E Belknap St, Ste 6, 817-862-7420) had to close after burglars ransacked the tiny Haltom City eatery set in the same strip mall as critical darlings Pho Nam (4045 E Belknap St, Ste 1, 817-824-0780). Though Pakse had to close for only a short time, the cost of losing a week’s worth of business, repairing the damage, and replacing the stolen property easily could have sunk the independently owned immigrant-run eight-table restaurant were it not for their loyal social media following.
My various feeds and timelines were filled with young, mostly Caucasian fans of Pakse lamenting its bad luck and encouraging their “friends” to check out the place. I’d visited a couple of times before, but, generally speaking, if I’m in that part of Haltom City, my car instinctively auto navigates straight to Pho Nam ––I may also have to drop in the nearby watering hole 40s & Shorties sometime soon. After a recent visit to Pakse, my Haltom City Thai pecking order may have just been changed.
Pakse’s dining room looks every bit the part of a ramshackle strip-mall upstart. The low drop ceilings give the impression that the space started life as an office. The walls are covered in fake laminate bricks screwed to one wall. On another, a mirror makes the space look bigger. For all its tumbledown charm, the plants, flowers, a modest fountain, and the requisite Buddha statues all give the impression that someone really cares about this place. These folks aren’t just going through the motions.
Of course, you could have a thousand Faberge eggs and a wall filled with Vermeers, and it wouldn’t matter if the food isn’t any good. As far as the kitchen is concerned, those white people on Facebook appear to know a good thing when they see one.
The Thai beef jerky ($6.99) was an excellent introduction to the menu’s looks-can-be-deceiving oeuvre. This isn’t the dried meat that’s sold alongside corndogs and transmission fluid at gas stations. The five surprisingly tender cigar-sized portions tasted of a chile marinade and salt and were accompanied by a chile dipping sauce made with fish oil and tomatoes. The same sauce was served alongside the Lao sausage appetizer ($6.99), juicy links stuffed with lemongrass, kaffir limejuice, rice, and garlic and swaddled in a snappy case.
If there’s one thing the kitchen does better than most indie Thai joints, it’s broth. My Boat Noodle soup ($8.75) was like a caldron of tasty, spicy morsels swimming in a dark, rich, convolvulus-flower-and-cinnamon-kissed elixir. Meatballs and flank steak anchored the mélange of scallion, red onion, cilantro, chile paste, ground peanuts, and bean sprouts. My guest’s Tom Yum Mix Seafood ($10) was an equally kaleidoscopic welter of flavors. The combo of shrimp, crab, fish cakes, mushrooms, lemongrass, and a broth infused with coconut milk, sour-sweet, and tomato hit just about every flavor note you’d want on a cold day.
With all the social media attention Pakse is receiving, I’m sure the place will recover its losses and then some. But don’t mistake this eatery for some charity case. The food is great, the prices are reasonable, and the people are nice. What a way to start the year.