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Annam Restaurant Vietnamien 22053 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-565-8744; $$: Annam co-owner Nguyen says that customers should feel comfortable eating their rolls with their fingers, as it's done back home. It's normal for restaurateurs to say they want you to experience and enjoy their culture, but as Nguyen lovingly explains her recipes, you get the feeling she really means it — light cuisine, generous portions, and comfortable atmosphere.
The Bamboo Club 44375 W. 12 Mile Rd., Novi; 248-347-1006; $$: This upscale chain includes dishes adapted from China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Tahiti, Korea and Hawaii — Asian flavors tuned to the American palate. Too many of the appetizers are deep-fried, but the Beijing duck is excellent: The meat is boned and roasted till the fat melts away and the skin becomes crackling crisp. There's plenty you'll find appealing, even if you're not into chopsticks.
Bangkok Crossing 620 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-3861; $$: As at the majority of Thai restaurants in the area, the food at Bangkok Crossing is heavier than you might prefer. That said, several of the dishes are enjoyable: pla dook pad ped (crisp red snapper stir-fried with mushrooms, peppers and eggplant), pad ma kher (eggplant that's fried within an inch of its life), as well as a few concessions to the American palate.
Bangkok Cuisine 2149 15 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-977-0130; $$: Montree and Somnuk Arpachinda were pioneers in bringing Thai fare to the area, and they carry on at the colorful hideaway they opened in 1983. Beef, pork, chicken, vegetable and seafood entrées come in various, delicious, spicy styles. Also, not a lot of Thai restaurants offer beer and wine — and this one does.
Bangkok Sala Cafe 27903 Orchard Lake Rd., Farmington Hills; 248-553-4220; $: Bangkok Sala Cafe is quite an attractive place, and does a good job with its entrées — gingery pad king is a great choice. Though it does less well on the side dishes, the desserts are good, such as the creamy, dreamy house-made coconut ice cream.
Eat in Thailand 560 Wyandotte St., Windsor; 519-252-0159; $: "Eat In Thailand" is the command — or the invitation — and a pulsing neon arrow shows you where Thailand is. Once inside the bare-bones storefront — no travel posters, just a few small pictures of dragons and pagodas — you'll find fresh food that blends the lightness of lime juice, the richness of coconut milk, the heat of red chiles, and sometimes the grease factor (in a good way) that tends to bring North Americans back for more.
Golden Wall 421 W. Cross, Ypsilanti; 734-482-7600; $: The menu combines Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine — with a few additions such as crab Rangoon and chicken curry — in an ambitious list of entrées, adapted to Midwestern tastes. Chef Nguyen's version of pho dac biet, a meal-in-a-bowl soup of beef and noodles, was good, with lots of brisket, meatballs and tripe.
Mini Restaurant 475 University, Windsor; 519-254-2221; $: This "mini"-spot serves Vietnamese food at its best: a wonderful combination of contrasting textures and subtle tastes. If Chinese food is a symphony, Vietnamese is chamber music. Soups, such as vegetable congee, are highlights, or try the amazing variety of bean drinks and exotic fruit slushes.
New Bangkok Thai Bistro 183 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham; 248-644-2181; $$: The pad thai smacks of comfort food, but the fried rice dishes are even more comforting (the emphasis is on fried). Fun for the younger set are bubble drinks — smoothies with a handful of soft and chewy boiled tapioca pearls that you slurp up through a special wide straw. Strawberry, watermelon, coconut, taro, green tea and black milk tea are bubble drink flavor options.
Oslo 1456 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-962-7200; $$$: Oslo patrons can choose between sushi and a longish list of superior Thai dishes; the sushi is sliced and rolled by Korean-born John Riney. Tom kha, the soup with coconut milk and chicken, is both creamy and salty, with generous chunks of chicken. Drunken noodles are peppery yet luscious, the noodles fat and slippery, with a fold-in garnish of fresh basil leaves. Equally delicious was a "signature" dish called simply "Oslo Udon Noodles." Chicken and shrimp and the usual vegetables join wide noodles of a pleasing firmness in a faintly sweet and certainly hot garlic sauce.
Pho Hang 30921 Dequindre Rd., Madison Heights; 248-583-9210; $: Pho Hang is a strip-mall storefront on an unlovely strip of Dequindre Road, but who cares? Thirty-one of Pho Hang's generous entrées can be had for $6, 11 cost $7, and only 14 cost $8 or more. Diners find the real deal at Pho Hang, where they'll get the lightness and, yes, grace of Vietnamese soups, with their strong yet clear broths and arrays of fresh garnishes. Cheerful and bustling, attuned to the Asian customer, Pho Hang serves perfectly balanced dishes that include a wide variety of noodles. The house-special sour soup comes with shrimp, fresh tomato, pineapple and bean sprouts. The barbecued pork is tender. All the portions are generous.
Pi's Thai Cuisine 24940 John R, Hazel Park; 248-545-4070; $: Pi's heat levels should be approached with caution. The prices are friendly, with $1.69 spring rolls that are superior. The pad kee mao (spicy noodle) has wide, slippery noodles heaped with generous amounts of smoky chicken and crisp vegetables. The gang gai (red curry chicken) has fiery red chili paste that's only slightly alleviated by the sweet blandness of the coconut milk. Limited seating. No credit cards, no booze.
Rexy's Bangkok Cuisine 30923 Woodward Ave., in Kroger Plaza, Royal Oak; 248-288-0002; $$: Rexy's is an upscale version of a successful formula. The interior is interesting and elegant, with a saltwater fish tank and bold, tropical murals. For an appetizer, try koong houm pa ($7.25), large shrimp stuffed with minced pork, ensconced in a paper-thin wrapper, then briefly fried. Served with a sugary-sweet plum sauce, it's a lovely beginning.
Sabidee 1449 W. 14 Mile Rd., Madison Heights; 248-597-0800; $$: This simple but attractive storefront in the Value Center Shopping Center seats about 50 in its bright, freshly painted dining space minimally decorated with Laotian art and artifacts. Most of the dishes on Wan's extensive menu are of Thai origin, but there are a handful of Laotian specialties on their extensive menu. The appetizer plate ($9.95) can be shared by four, with spring rolls, chicken satay, fried tofu, fried plantains, curry puffs and beef jerky along with several dipping sauces. A large bowl of tom kha, a silky smooth soup of coconut milk, lime, chilies and chicken ($5) is an even better way for a party of four to launch an excursion into culinary parts unknown.
Sy Thai 315 Hamilton Row, Birmingham; 248-258-9830; $: This is one restaurant where you ought to take the hot pepper rating seriously; even the mild spice level will prickle your taste buds. The little storefront eatery is a busy, noisy, friendly place, also doing a brisk take-out business. Of note are the fresh steamed mussel appetizer and curry noodles with squid, as well as the tom kha soup (coconut milk broth laced with lime, with little straw mushrooms, scallions and fresh basil floating within).
Thai House Express 32166 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-4112; $: Thai House Express in Royal Oak is an offshoot of the original on Gratiot Avenue in Roseville. In general, the management encourages substitutions; the menu says any dish can be vegetarian, even giving an example of how to convert a chicken dish into a vegetarian one. Bear in mind that Thai House Express is basically a carryout joint, and that portions are enormous.
Thang Long 27641 John R, Madison Heights; 248-547-6763; $$: Fresh leafy greens and herbs characterize the Vietnamese food served at Thang Long. Try the fresh and flavorful summer rolls, or do it yourself with an order of Thit Bo, which lets you wrap your own chicken, beef or pork. Also excellent are the rice noodle soups, which are meals in themselves.