- Cowgirl Chef - http://cowgirlchef.com -

Amarillo: Thai Garden

Best known for big cattle ranches and 72-ounce steaks, Amarillo isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think, “Hey, I’m in the mood for Thai.”

But it might be soon. Because I was the other day when I was driving through on my way back to Texas (third time in two months if anyone’s counting), and even though I’d been to a pretty good Thai place called My Thai less than a mile from where I was going to be hanging my cowgirl hat that evening, I decided to drive far, far to the other side of town in hopes of find a highly recommended Thai restaurant that had long since closed that night…only to find another Thai place just down the street.

Located in a nondescript lilac building, Thai Garden was packed with cars at 9:45 on a Saturday night. Hungry and in the mood for anything Asian at this point, and with no other options in sight, I pulled in, parked my little SUV alongside the others, and peeked inside for a looksee.

You know sometimes how you just know when you’ve stumbled onto something great?

Maybe it was the neon Bud Light sign hanging on one wall, which struck just the right note of tacky in what was otherwise a cavernous, haphazardly decorated space, lit by florescent rectangles in the ceiling, casting a bluish glow. Or perhaps it was my waitress; the niece, it turns out, of the owner, who’s from a small town in Thailand (but she wasn’t sure where). But when the spring rolls came; fat and misshapen things, stuffed with crunchy slivers of cabbage, lettuce, and carrots; glass noodles, spicy pork, and shrimp, if I’d had any doubt, it was dispelled then. They were delicious. Fresh. Handmade.

Then Pad Thai that rivaled what I’d eaten (and learned to make at a cooking school there) in Chiang Mai a few years ago. Heaps of noodles. Broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, egg. Peanuts on the side, and a wedge of lime.

Heaven after five hours of munching on trail mix washed down with a watered-down iced latte that needed to be tossed out 75 miles ago.

The joy of a road trip is finding something new…an undiscovered path, a perspective on someplace you’ve seen dozens of times before. In the case of Amarillo, a drive-through for many and a stop-over for perhaps even more, I’m always surprised at what I find. Last time I drove through, I refueled with a green chile cheeseburger at Golden Light Cafe, then bought a pair of old Nocona cowgirl boots for $7 at the antique mall across the street.

Amarillo’s the halfway point between my mom’s house and Santa Fe, so it’s a road that I know well…or so I thought. I hear Tacos Garcia has a great breakfast. Next time, I plan to set my alarm to find out.