Woah! Another TOP-TIER-THAI
to add to my regular rotation! - This was one of the most exciting meals I have had in a long time. I’m frankly shocked that there is only one post on the place (Thanks BR, and sorry I didn’t notice your post earlier).
In-On specializes in central Thai cuisine
which puts the flavors and dishes in a slightly different category than my other 2 favorite thai places in town, Rainbow or Aroy. That said, in terms of quality, I would certainly place In-On among the big leagues.
This Mom, Pop, (+daughter +grandma) place couldn’t be cozier, or friendlier. It has a lot of character with the dark wood, wooden furniture, an antique copper cash register which they actually use, and most importantly the artwork from their grade-school daughter all over the walls.
The owners were more than happy to curate most of the meal for us when we told them it was our first time in. We let them know that we’re interested in the stuff they’re most proud of, and they were excited to oblige. They explained how they are uncompromising and dedicated to recreating the authentic flavors of central Thailand
, with a note of concern that locals don’t necessarily understand those flavors. Considering the neighborhood, it is quite a bold move that they only have one menu, and it does not contain much, if any of the Americanized or Pan-Asian stuff that you find on other menus around town. They delivered on the promise of authenticity with plenty of funk, spice, and deep flavors. The fact that they make their curries from scratch is certainly nothing to overlook, the quality there is evident and the flavors are the best curry flavors I’ve had in town, but I feel like that is just tip of it. The same level of care is apparent in every dish, curry or not. Here is what we ordered:
I’ll start with my favorite, the fermented pork ribs
, I believe they are what was listed on the menu as “Marinated Pork Spare Rib”.
They had a lot of tang and a bit of funk from the fermentation, but at the same time tasted fresh, juicy, amply seasoned, and served piping hot. Served with a side of pickles, this is probably my new favorite bite at the moment. I am craving them daily.
I’m not sure what this noodle curry dish with fish balls
was, maybe it was on the board specials, but it was probably tied as my 2nd favorite thing of the day. The curry paste was thick and aggressively spiced, and I don’t mean just hot spicy, I just mean in flavor overload. Once all mixed together it actually reminded me a lot of the Burmese/Thai curries with noodles I’ve had. I really loved the addition of the handmade mini fish balls, smaller than I’ve ever seen. This was a great dish.
Equally as awesome was the Green Bean Salad
. As you’re probably noticing, the dish titles aren’t exactly descriptive. The menu describes it as “Steam green bean, hardboiled egg, shrimp, ground pork on top with coconut milk and crispy shallots.” As you see from the picture, there is a lot more to it than being simply topped with coconut milk. Again, complex spicing, healthy, fresh, vibrant, and intense.
The Fish with Herb Salad
was another table favorite. Fried white fish, which we were told was tilapia but tasted fresher, and a better texture than the fillets you normally encounter, was topped with herbs, onions, and sliced sour apples, doused with ample spicy, fish-saucy, citrusy dressing. Fresh, healthy, spicy…
The Green Curry
, made from the much talked about homemade curry paste, was different not in its intensity as the other curries, but subtlety is cool too. This was smooth and soothing, which is not to say it was lacking interesting spicing or complexity. Among, if not the best green curry I’ve tasted.
Another specials menu item, name unknown, was a crispy fried fish
drenched in a curry sauce and topped with crispy fried thai basil. Loved it, would definitely order again.
The Mee Krob
came highly recommended, by both the owners and by BR. Embarrassed as I am to admit it, I have never had this dish elsewhere, so I am not sure how to place this version. It was just too sweet for me, I’m not often a sweets kind of guy. I was told by BR that the previous version he ate (mentioned in his post above) had more of the tamarind sourness, but he also said, even accounting for that, it was still less sweet than most you’d find in Chicago. I can’t honestly say I’d order it again, but with so many other things on the menu, I’m going to say no huge loss.
The Pad Thai
is not usually a dish I order, but we were told they do it Bangkok style, and not the american way, so I just had to order it. The noodles had some great char flavor (would it still be called wok hei?) and a great balance of flavors otherwise. The sugar and dried chili peppers were served to the side so you could mix as much as you want into it. It definitely had the requisite sweetness, though it was the least sweet version I’ve had in Chicago, again, balanced. Anyone wanting to taste a decent Pad Thai, I’ll be taking them to In-On.
Lastly, another chalkboard special, was what they called a “Curry Puff”
, which was like a curry samosa. It had a nice flaky crust and a decent, if a bit mild and mostly potato, interior. Would make for a good appetizer or crowd-pleaser for people with less adventurous palate.
This was really an awesome meal! I think In-On deserves a lot more attention, and I'd love to hear what more LTHers think about it as well.
With so many more great looking/sounding items on the menu, I look forward to many, many more visits in the future, maybe an LTH get together is in order?
Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.