Budapest is the only city where I actually hesitate to recommend restaurants that I like. Inevitably the word will get back about a steak that was cold in the middle, a roach seen on the floor, an unexpected charge slipped onto the check. Eating out is a roll of the dice here, and it has been a particularly unlucky summer for me, having found a piece of glass in a dessert, watched a chef digging for that extra ingredient in her nose, and seen the demise and joyless resurrection of the Kertész utca Falafel Bar. Budget Budapest has never seemed so pricey to the spirit. That said, it hasn’t been all bad. Thai Wok, newly opened in District V, on my first visit, sent me home with a huge, perfect Pad Thai, complete with wedge of lime. A good Pad Thai is a thing to celebrate. But how long it would be until they royally screwed with the illusion that I had found the next great budget bite?
Well, I didn’t have to wait long. On a return lunch visit, the restaurant’s limitations were quickly revealed. The vegetable tempura (pictured) was fine but no great shakes, and the portion looked a bit stingy on such a large plate. The vegetables – onion, carrot, zucchini, and broccoli – might have been better served by a less gelid dipping sauce.
The main of chicken Kaang Daeng (a red curry) started off well. It had a nice balance of color and the first forkful was quite flavorful. But I should know better than to let my guard down. The dish came with a surprise in the form of a chewing tobacco-sized wad of un-dissolved curry paste (above). Pure chili paste is not a pleasant thing to bite into, and it pretty much pulverized my taste buds for the rest of the meal.
My dining companion’s Kang Luang (a yellow vegetarian curry) seemed bland, but I think anything might have tasted bland after that curry bomb.
Thai Wok took over the storefront of Dos Gringos, a Mexican joint that was decent but only occasionally open before it finally closed. The best thing about the space is the open kitchen, where you can watch the Thai chef hard at work. You can order from a waitress or from the takeout menu (kudos to Thai Wok for selling takeout in cardboard Chinese food boxes rather than plastic containers). It is worth pointing out that Thai Wok has returned great feedback from people I trust. But, as with about every non-chain restaurant I have been to recently, consistency is a problem. If you have had a better experience, please comment. I, for one, will be sticking to the Pad Thai until I am once again in a gambling mood.