(Article Updated 6/12/2017)
Long ago and far away, a small, yellow gas station located on Hwy 281 in Marble Falls, Texas, began serving Thai food to hungry patrons. I moved to Sunrise Beach in late 1996, and sorely missed the opportunities city living afforded. It had been so easy, so convenient, to pick up any ethnic food I wanted on the way home from work. I was on the hunt for something I could sink my teeth into, an ethnic food that would satisfy my yearnings for the extraordinary.
Not too long after I moved to the Highland Lakes area, LBJ Food Mart, the yellow, unassuming gas station, started making magic in a small, hot kitchen. Was this the answer to my prayers?
I made my way over to try give this dive a whirl. To my surprise, the food was some of the best Thai food I’d ever eaten…just as authentic as the good Thai restaurants in Austin. For years, I spread the word about the yellow gas station and its marvelous dishes, encouraging others to try it out.
Mind you, this happened at a time when most folks in the Highland Lakes area were happy to eat Americanized Chinese food at China Kitchen. Not many people were interested in something as exotic as Thai food, much less from a gas station. In small towns, however, word spreads fast. And if you’re good, well, you’re a rock star.
Earlier this spring, I called the gas station to see if the cook was in town and serving hungry patrons (she makes trips back to her native country at least once a year). I was told that she was opening her own restaurant. Lucky me!
This month, my daughter and I made the journey to Thai Niyom. The restaurant is not so conveniently located next door to the Texaco gas station at the intersection of FM 1431 and Hwy 281. You enter by a side door as the front door is not accessible. However, there are small parking areas on the right side of the building and in the back.
We went to Thai Niyom restaurant on two separate occasions. Unfortunately, both the owner and the cook were not available for an interview. Also, both the owner and infamous “mama” who cooks did not want their last names used for this piece. However, I was told that Orathai is the cook, and her daughter, Khanittha, is the owner of Thai Niyom.
My long-time, favorite dish by Orathai is the geuw teow gai. I’ve tried like hell to find a recipe for this dish, exactly as Orathai cooks it, and have come up empty handed. I order my geuw teow gai as medium spicy, and sometimes I forgo the bean sprouts. You can also substitute shrimp for the chicken. This flat noodle dish is to die for!
Phad Thai is my daughter’s favorite, and she prefers it cooked by Orathai over any other Thai restaurant we’ve frequented. Orathai makes it about as authentic as it comes. There’s no greasy residue or red coating like you’ll find on some Phad Thai. We’ve had this dish with both chicken and shrimp, and I’ve ventured to have it vegetarian, too.
You cannot visit Thai Niyom without having an order (or two) of the baby rolls. These bite-sized, tiny rolls are the epitome of Thai heaven, I think. This is another recipe I’ve search high and low for, without avail. What I do know is each roll is about three inches long and is packed with ground meat and carrots. The rolls come with a slightly spicy, sweet sauce that’s great for dipping. Top off the baby rolls with a few drops of Rooster (as my family lovingly calls Sriracha hot chili sauce), and you’re good to go.
The cheese rolls are very good, too. This is a two-roll appetizer filled with a warm cream cheese and carrot mixture. I detect hints of garlic and perhaps a bit of onion in this roll, which is wrapped in rice paper and fried to a crispy, golden brown. The same dipping sauce you get with the baby rolls accompanies the cheese rolls.
Our waitress, Jessica, suggested on our second visit that we try the egg rolls. She quickly explained that these were not ordinary Chinese rolls. Evidently Orathai used to serve a more traditional Chinese egg roll, the type filled with cabbage, meat, and veggies. Since I adore egg rolls, I was game to try them out, and I wasn’t disappointed. Instead of cabbage, Orathai uses glass noodles. The rolls are wrapped in rice paper and deep fried to a crispy, delicate texture and served with the spicy, sweet sauce.
We also gave the kaw-phad pineapple fried rice a go. My daughter was interested in trying out a fried rice with pineapple chunks. Among a sea of well-seasoned rice, pineapple chunks, shrimp, and pieces of chicken, you found chunks of ham. This is a dish we could have shared by itself and been perfectly happy with.
Just to top off the order, my daughter wanted an entree of cashew chicken. Although my daughter ended up not eating many of the bamboo shoots, the dish was very good. It had a rich, smoky flavor reminiscent of the toasted cashews with a bit of sesame thrown in. A thin, brown sauce flowed into the mound of steamed rice next to the chicken. Yum!
If you love Thai food, give Thai Niyom restaurant a go. Staff are friendly and helpful, and service is prompt. The restaurant is clean and comfortable. I await the day when I can meet Orathai! That’s my new goal, as well as re-visiting some of her curry dishes. I’ve smiled and thanked her through the ordering window at LBJ Food Mart, and I hope to see her again someday soon.
You rock, Orathai!
A separate pictorial post will soon be posted with photos of the various dishes we sampled.
Thai Niyom Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Lunch is served from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday thru Friday, and features six entrees served with an egg roll, soup, and steamed or fried rice. Dinner is served Monday thru Saturday, 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Alcohol is not served by the restaurant, but you can BYOB. Thai Niyom Restaurant is located at 909 Hwy 281, Marble Falls, Texas 78654. The phone number is (830) 693-1526.