Tucked into what feels like a modified living room is Glai Baan Thai Street Food, a charming and welcome spot from first-time restaurateurs Dan and Cat. It feels almost strange to call them Dan and Cat, like they are my friends, but after a handful of visits, anything else would seem overly formal and insincere.
The name itself, Glai Baan, loosely translates to “far from home.” Dotting the interior is a family-style photo collection of Thailand’s beloved former king and his family, as well as a smattering of black-and-white photos of a more rustic Bangkok, displayed and arranged like you’d see in a living room. Which, if you are playing along, is obviously the express intent of our hosts.
Our servers were two adorable and well-trained folks who know the menu and are quick to pull out water bowls for canine friends in the pup-approved patio. We saw them both on every visit, Dan as well (Cat’s in the kitchen but will probably swing by to say “hi” at least once), and they remembered our names and our previous orders. Pretty impressive, since one of our visits coincided with their soft opening, which happens if you’ve been eyeing a new restaurant and assume that more cars in the parking lot means the place is open for business.
Always ask for the nightly specials. We missed the fish on our first visit. However, on subsequent visits we thoroughly enjoyed the Thai Beef Salad ($12), an impressive hunk of NY Strip steak grilled to smoky perfection alongside a melange of red onions, chiles and a robust hand-ground black pepper. Perched on a smallish shareable plate (Fair warning: pick your table carefully. These small plates take up much-needed real estate on the charming two-top tables, so order wisely and have empties removed post haste), the greens in this salad were mostly cilantro, which is exactly the best way to enjoy this dish. I’m impressed that locally sourced beef is this inexpensive for this kind of portion.
The Northern Thai Grilled Sausage ($12) was spicy, and slightly sour from the Kaffir lime leaves and citrus, which is perfection for this regional dish. A small dish of grilled mild chiles comes alongside, and we devoured them with chicharrones (more on that later), scooping them up like salsa verde. It’s clear someone here is an expert at the grill. What was slightly disappointing was the price point. While I get that locally sourced everything impacts price points, twelve bucks for one smallish sausage seems a bit steep. It’s delicious, make no mistake, but at that price I’d expect a more generous portion.
The house-made Chicharrones ($2) is an enormous portion—more than enough for two people, and I would expect them to be twice that price. Charmingly served on a repurposed piece of paper from a Chinese calendar, the presentation lends to the homey charm of the place.
My absolute favorite thing on the menu is the Son-in-Law Eggs ($4), four half-egg morsels that remind me of the deep-fried egg Chris Curtis used to impress with at NOCA not so long ago. Somehow a deep-fried whole egg is sliced in half to reveal a totally creamy center, not quite hard-boiled. I pondered the simple physics of how this was done while we scarfed them down. I have no idea. I will keep eating them until I find out. Savory, umami flavors are kicked up a notch with the sauce they arrive on, which reminded me of a mild ramen broth.
I absolutely inhaled the Larb Moo ($8), a heady mix of ground pork, mint, shallots, lime and fish sauce. With the wedges of cabbage that come alongside we attempted to make wraps, but to little avail. Nevertheless, we persisted. Think of the most savory and impeccable pork Thai lettuce wrap, and you’ll be close. Cat has a gentle, deft hand in the kitchen, and somehow this fried minced pork still managed to feel light.
The Salted Crab Papaya Salad ($10) is a funky, fantastic flavor explosion. Meant to provide depth and salt, the adorable baby crab pieces disguised the fact that this dish is SPICY. Make no mistake, ordered as is, this dish kills it. Don’t ask for it to be dumbed down—just go for it. The cooling unripe papaya and tomato wedges are a great counterpoint to the blazing heat.
We also loved the Kanom Jeeb ($8), in which five decadent and luscious steamed pork dumplings come served inside a cute bamboo steamer. Great freshly made dough wrappers managed to stay toothsome, even after cooking, with none of the nascent gumminess found in lesser dumplings. The freshly ground pork was perfect, with no greasy residue to negatively impact the steaming. The exceptional ginger dipping sauce should be bottled post haste. I would stock that at home in perpetuity.
I wouldn’t normally review a place that hasn’t even been open three weeks. But Glai Baan is already delicious, homey and comfortable. While its name might indicate the owners are far from home, after the first visit, you’ll feel like it’s your second home. There’s no pretension, just great shareable small plates brought to you by people who want you to feel like family. The ingredients are fresh and local, and the dishes clearly prepared by people who love what they are doing.
Glai Baan Thai Street Food
2333 E. Osborn, Phoenix
Tuesday –Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight
Closed Sunday & Monday