A few weeks ago, my Thai friend Rong invited me to lunch at her favourite Thai restaurant in Brisbane, Thai Wi-Rat in the Valley. A Thai person revealing the most authentic local Thai restaurant? Cue my happy dance. Thai Wi-Rat claims to be one of the only restaurants in Brisbane serving dishes from Laos and the Issan region of north-eastern Thailand.
The vibe: Close your eyes and you could be in Bangkok. Think traffic fumes and lemongrass, honking horns and the sing-song of chattering Thais, neon lights and plastic chairs. It’s the definition of cheap and cheerful.
The food: The menu is filled with laminated page after laminated page of numbered dishes, ranging from the ubiquitous curries and stir-fries to the more intriguing Issan and Laotian dishes. Complete with pictures, it’s a guide to Thai cuisine. I hedge my bets both ways with a few classics such as pad Thai and massaman curry, and venture further afield with som tum with fermented crab and an Issan soup with offal (gulp).
Top picks: The signature salad of calamari fried fish maw, tomato, red onion, coriander and cashew is a vibrant celebration of colour, texture and fresh flavours. The pad Thai was fantastic, bursting with tamarind and on par with any I’ve eaten in Thailand. Despite its searing spiciness, the tom yum soup was a dish I would order again (especially if you’ve got a cold). Another unexpected surprise was the tom kha gai, a sweet and sour coconut soup that I have somehow overlooked my entire life. Don’t miss it.
The service: Be prepared to line up at the counter or wave down waiters for service. Things can get a little hectic when the restaurant is packed. But in classic Thai fashion, you’ll always receive a friendly, polite response to any requests and a kop khun kha when you leave.
Quibbles: Very few, as long as you pitch your expectations at the right level. You don’t come here for the ambience or the desserts, and a few of the entrees are fairly standard renditions. Order adventurously and you’ll be rewarded.
The bill: Two people could come here and order a feast and get change from $50.
The verdict: 4/5. Authentic Thai flavours at great prices – every city should have a cheap Thai joint like Thai Wi-Rat. Is it Brisbane’s best Thai? I’m going to go out on a limb and say yes.
Thai Wi-Rat: Shop 48, 20 Duncan Street, Chinatown Mall, Fortitude Valley, Qld, tel: (07) 3257 0884
I’d love your tips – what is your favourite Thai restaurant?