The True Spice Route: To Thailand Via Issaquah Via Noodle Boat

noodle-boat-8-noodleboat-600-9318What happens when a food writer joins friends for dinner with no intention of a write-up or review? Well, apparently, it still turns into a photo shoot and report.

How can I resist sharing images from a tantalizing Thai meal at Noodle Boat in Issaquah? I’ve consistently ranked Noodle Boat at the top of its class for a number of reasons:

  • Menu: There’s great variety, far from the same old dishes you’ll find on just about every other Thai menu in the area.
  • Quality of ingredients: In addition to going all the way to Thailand each year to research new dishes, family members make chili paste there to serve back in Seattle.
  • Heat: Speaking of chili, Noodle Boat is one of the rare restaurants to really bring the heat. You can actually order on a scale up to 25.
  • Enthusiasm: The workers take pride in their food, and have fun promoting it. Even the names of the dishes are fun. Queen of Banana, meet King of Garlic and Hot Meat.

Dishes we didn’t order this time include the punctuation-marked “Whatever You Called?” and “Kow Ob! Gai Tod.” To see the nine fiery dishes we did get, check the photos below.

Note: Seems like we almost lost Noodle Boat. Toon, who’s forever worked the front of the house, told us that her mom recently decided to go back to Thailand, which would mean an end to the restaurant as we know it. But at the last minute, her aunt and uncle agreed to come to Issaquah to cook and continue the business. Mom’s monitoring cooking quality–for now.


The meal starts with a trip to Sour Beach ($13.25)–mixed seafood with a soupy sauce of garlic, lime, and chilies. We ordered all of our dishes at spice levels of either 6 or 10, initially forgetting that the spice scale actually goes to 25. We felt the heat, though I think I’d go even spicier next time, as I failed to break a desired sweat.


This is King of Garlic ($10.75), which comes with a choice of meat (pictured is chicken) mixed with garlic, lemongrass (not glass, as the menu indicates), chili paste, assorted vegetables, and crispy Thai basil.


Everyone liked the Tom Kha soup ($8.75) with coconut milk, cilantro, lime leaves, galangal, and mushrooms. Another choice of meats, though we got this with banana blossoms.


The KA-PAO-RAD-KHOW ($10.25) provided one of the more interesting moments of the meal. Made with stir-fried ground meat (chicken or pork), bell pepper, holy basil, and other seasonings, we wanted this at a spice level of 10. While the heat was there, the flavor was otherwise flat. Our server explained that we’d ordered at too high of a spice level, claiming the chili would overpower the dish and make the meat bitter. (My first thought: Why not advise us of that beforehand?) She was fairly insistent on this point, so we left it largely uneaten for her to take back to the kitchen upon clean-up. Apparently, someone in the back took a bite of the leftovers and immediately noticed that aside from chili, there was no seasoning. As our group prepared to leave, the kitchen sent out an order in a to-go box, asking us to try a bite to know the real taste. And, yes, it was just as we remembered from previous visits–with depth of flavor, and without bitterness.


From the curry section of the menu, this is Panang ($10.25). It’s one of the more straightforward items on the menu–a choice of meats (or tofu or vegetables) in rich curry sauce, with bell peppers and basil.


Larb Gai ($10.25) is refreshing, offering cabbage leaves filled with ground chicken, onion, cilantro, mint, lime juice, and rice powder.


Noodle Boat calls their version of Hor Mok “BKK” ($10.25) for no apparent reason. No matter…this was my favorite dish of the night. Typically a fish custard that’s steamed, Noodle Boat does it as a stir-fry, in this instance with shrimp. Nice flavors from the red chili paste and coconut milk, along with Thai basil, fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. There’s also cabbage and egg in the dish.


This Noodle Boat ($9.75) has rice sticks, plus spinach, bean sprouts, green onion, and cilantro in an herb soup. My quest for real boat noodles, though, will have to continue, likely taking me to Vancouver or Los Angeles, as Seattle-area Thai restaurants don’t sell the deep, mineral-ly soup I love, filled with intestines, pork blood cubes, and other goodies.


BBQ Chicken ($10.25), marinated with Thai BBQ sauce and grilled. This dish is always a favorite, already full of flavor but accompanied by a couple of extra chili sauces.

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