If you’re not looking for Planet Thai, you would never know it was there. In fact, chances are if you were looking for Planet Thai, you still wouldn’t find it.
Located off of Nicholasville Road in an unassuming shopping center near a paint store and a tattoo parlor, Planet Thai’s doesn’t exactly look like a place where you would expect to get a great meal. It’s appearance is…underwhelming. It’s also a horrible pain in the butt to make a left into this shopping center from Nicholasville Road. It’s just off of the intersection of Nicholasville and Pasadena, where there always seems to be heavy traffic no matter the time of day. If traffic is heavy your best bet would be to turn onto Pasadena, turn onto Regency and then another left on Dennis Drive. However if you make the effort to try Planet Thai, you won’t be disappointed.
Full disclosure: I’ve only been to Planet Thai twice, and only once did I actually sat down and eat inside the restaurant (The other time being a take out order). So far all the other restaurants I’ve reviewed have been places I go to on a semi-regular basis. In fact, I’ve never even had Thai food before a week ago, when I was searching for something to eat before work. I’ve heard people talk up Planet Thai before, so I didn’t exactly go in blind. I just never imagined it would be this…fantastic!
My first taste of Planet Thai was through take out, where I ordered the Spicy Catfish, at spice level three. As everyone knows, Thai cuisine is famous for its piquancy. However like most cultures it has a delicate and delicious balance of spice, sweetness, sometimes bitter and salty flavors. Knowing that the majority of Thai food is spicy, I had to remind myself that their idea of spicy is probably much hotter than mine.
Since my order was to go, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to get a platter that consisted of fish that was sitting in an airtight container, with simmering vegetables and plenty of juices. I also walk to work, which left my dinner sitting in that container for a good ten minutes after it was finished. That pretty much assured that my first impression of Planet Thai would be somewhat skewed. However when I finally got to work, opened my container and actually got down to eating, I was surprised with just how much I loved the entire meal. Sure, the baby corn and catfish were a little soggy, but that’s was most likely my fault not theirs. Occasionally I bit into a piece of catfish that was spared a soggy death, and at that point I was in heaven. The catfish was crispy; full of flavor with just the right amount of spice. A little greasy, but who knows if I would have even noticed or complained if I had just ate at the restaurant instead of taking ten minutes to carry a steaming hot plate of fish half a mile away in 90 degree heat.
I figured I had to give Planet Thai another chance, because while my catfish was good, it wasn’t great. Every restaurant deserves a fair chance. Kat and I recently went back to Planet Thai, this time for a good sit down meal.
First some observations of the interior. Outside of a nice fish tank and a gigantic flat screen TV near the entrance, the inside is kind of dumpy. The wall paper was falling down. The ventilation system is sitting right in front of you in plain sight, and the only thing separating me from a kitchen full of screaming cooks and waiting staff is a thin partition. As we’re sitting at our booth, waiting for our order of Crab Rangoons, I notice that the place is slowly filling to capacity. That’s when Kat tells me she used to come here often with her friends for lunch, and yet I’m sitting there believing I just found Paititi. I felt tragically late to the party. It goes to show you that no matter what you believe, someone else has always beaten you to the punch; sometimes by days, sometimes by years.
It didn’t affect the taste, however. They tasted like crab rangoons – that is cream cheese with a little hint of crab - if a little too crispy. They came with some sort of citrus-honey sauce, but they were actually better without it.
Next up was the hot & sour soup: egg with a peppery broth. It wasn’t anything special. Actually I couldn’t taste anything besides the black pepper. I think it come with every meal, as we didn’t order it but were served it anyway. Hard to find fault in the soup since it was a throw in for our meal. Apparently the Thai version of this Asian staple is supposed to have lime, Tofu, lemon grass and other ingredients, but, again, all I could taste was the pepper.
I ordered the Mussamun Curry with chicken: a spicy dish with a peanut sauce. It consists of coconut milk, potatoes, onions, pieces of peanuts, and carrots. This may be hyperbole, but this was one of my favorite meals since moving to Lexington.
I felt guilty not being able to finish off the entire bowl. Even though the only thing left was the sauce, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I should order more rice just so I can soak up the remaining deliciousness. Every savory piece of chicken just reminded me that my meal would soon be over, and that I wasn’t appreciating every remaining morsel. I ordered it level three spicy, and although I did have to stop and take a drink every once in a while, it wasn’t overpowering. The spice didn’t hinder the flavor in the slightest. The peanut-based sauce was creamy and could really go with anything. The potatoes added a some body to the dish. My only complaint was that there wasn’t more chicken in the dish, but with the carrots and potatoes I was getting full anyway.
It’s a very common meal: Rice noodles, peanut crumbles, onions, chicken, and bean sprouts. Overall she enjoyed it, however she did have some complaints. The chicken was a little overdone and the dish needed some lime. Normally Pad Thai gets a slice of lime, however Planet Thai provides a lemon wedge. A very sweet dish, it was adequate and a cheap meal.
The servers were courteous and attentive, but not overbearing. Even though the place was filling up I never felt like we were being rushed out of our seats. Some places have this attitude, especially at lunch time, where the second you’re done eating it’s time for you to leave. We stayed between five and ten minutes after our meal was over and they didn’t seem to care.
Our experience at Planet Thai was nearly perfect. If it wasn’t for the crab rangoons, soup (again, I can’t be too hard on something that was given for free) and a so-so Pad Thai, I would give Planet Thai an A. Yet I’m fairly inexperienced with not only Planet Thai, but with Thai food. Planet Thai has a reputation around town as a fantastic establishment with a somewhat cult following, so they would know more about the restaurant than me. I would definitely go again; I actually plan on it. The tired old cliché goes “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and that applies here. Just because the restaurant is located in some small, hidden shopping center near a tiny side road, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort to try a meal. Like me, you might be pleasantly surprised.