Mengrai Thai – Toronto’s most authentic Thai experience
|Location||82 Ontario Street|
After a less-than-satisfying experience at Isaan Der a few weeks ago, I was left with a craving for Thai that I just couldn’t kick. It was kind of like eating a mediocre filet mignon at The Keg, while being absolutely fixated on the Wagyu filet at Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse. After dining at Mengrai Thai, thoughts about a better Thai option no longer dominate my thoughts.
Mengrai Thai has a lonely address, tucked away east of the downtown core on Ontario Street. It’s hard to reach by public transit or on foot, but it’s been open since 2007. You’d never know from the building’s unassuming exterior that it’s bustling inside, full of diners who had, like my family, come to soak up the flavours of a less frigid corner of the globe. We walked into a space that felt like an authentic Thai restaurant with gold Buddha statues adorning the dining area and jewel-toned throw pillows decorating the intimate seating nooks. Was I in Thailand? The ambiance was intimate enough for a family gathering, dinner out with friends or a first date.
Part of the allure of dining at Mengrai is meeting its owners, Allan Lim and Sasi Meechai. Much like a Thai dish, they’re a dynamic team—the perfect balance of spicy and sweet: Allan is exuberant and in his element in his front-of-house role, kibitzing with diners, pulling out his phone to show photos of celebrities who have dined there (Jessica Alba and Mick Jagger, to name a few) and making you feel like you’re part of his family. Sasi, being more reserved, is happiest behind the scenes—where she does her best work as an award-winning chef. It’s one of the few restaurants in Canada that has received the prestigious Thai Premium Select Certification from the Royal Thai Government—a high honour.
From the minute you walk in, Allan rolls out the red carpet and makes you feel like you’re an A-list celebrity, giving you his full attention and bringing complimentary dishes to sample. As for the food, Sasi trained in Thailand, so the mechanics of her authentic Thai cuisine are spot on: the curries flavourful, the soups velvety and the deep-fried spring rolls crispy.
The Golden Pumpkin Soup is one of the house specialties and is not to be missed. Its texture is rich and flavourful, with multi-dimensional notes of coconut, lemongrass and galangal layered over a pumpkin base. Our table also shared the Green Goddess Avocado Shrimps—a delicious, visually appealing dish containing poached shrimp and a green curry coconut emulsion. Que ça goutte bon! The Taro Yam Rolls were an interesting addition to the menu as well. Biting into these crispy logs filled with taro yam, corn carrot and peziza mushroom was so satisfying. I wish every Thai restaurant could make classic sweet red chili dipping sauce with that much punch.
Allan chatted with our table before the mains arrived, sharing stories about his family’s charity, Treetop Country, working to further the education and quality of life of the people living in the rural village of Wiang Pa Pao (where Sasi is from).
We dug into the entrees, which were all authentic and delightful in presentation as well as taste. The generous portion of Panang curry with chicken differed from Isaan Der’s—the colour was less vibrant and the flavour was milder, but it sang with notes of fresh lemongrass, coconut broth, galangal and kaffir lime (as all Panang curries should). It could have been a bit spicier, though. We also ordered two stir-fries, a familiar sight at Asian restaurants: a ginger stir-fry with chicken and a cashew stir fry with strip loin beef. The bowls were overflowing with a rainbow of Bok Choy, Napa cabbage and sweet bell peppers. The vegetables weren’t limp, as they would be at other restaurants, and the hint of sweet ginger and Thai basil in the sauce wasn’t too overpowering. Paired with jasmine rice, they were basic stir-fries done right.
In recent years, there’s been an influx of street-style Thai spots in Toronto—from Pai to Khao San Road. Naturally, Torontonians sometimes forget what a traditional Thai dining experience is supposed to feel like from start to finish—this is what Allan and Sasi have Thai-ed up in a very beautiful and delicious package.
Mme M. xoxo
La rubrique de Madame Marie
1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
2 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
3 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
4 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
5 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.