Our publisher, whose sister has lived in Thailand for 20 years, tells a funny story about visiting a street cart in Thailand and ordering her larb “Thai hot”—then noticing as all the locals watched to see if the white girl could handle it.
I love spicy food. My husband loves it even more. But even he was impressed with the levels of heat achieved at Busaba, a family-run Thai restaurant in Louisville with recipes that taste as if we were visiting that same street cart in Bangkok. The crisply modern space in one of the bustling new shopping areas along McCaslin provides a clean palate for the flavors encountered on their menu.
For lunch, the menu tends toward the traditional, with masterful renderings of dishes most Americans will find familiar, including flavorful pad thai, bright green and red curries, and drunken noodles. All the lunch dishes are available vegetarian or with your choice of protein, and then the waiter confronts you with the penultimate question: “How spicy?”
At Busaba, the scale runs from “no spice,” to mild, all the way up to hot and “Thai hot.” My advice: Go a little milder than you might normally. Medium was deliciously spicy on my drunken noodles, but when my husband and I returned for dinner, a “medium” larb nearly took the skin off the roof of my mouth.
The good news is that despite the searing pain I was feeling, I wanted to eat more. The pork larb sparkled with flavors of lime, fish sauce and hot, hot chiles. The chicken puffs reminded us of the love child of an eggroll and an Indian samosa with potatoes and flavors of curry. The Thai ravioli was tasty but really just little steamed dumplings (a tad less exciting than the name might suggest).
Thankfully, my main course, goong ob woon sen, hit low on the spice Richter scale but high on flavor with plump shrimp and salty bacon in a nest of steamed bean thread noodles with a sauce of sesame, soy, slices of fresh ginger, whole cloves of garlic and cilantro. My husband’s dry seafood tom yum was a delicious revelation, taking all the flavors of the familiar soup—coconut milk, fish sauce and galangal with loads of tender slices of chicken breast, crisp veggies and mushrooms—and translating them into an excellent stir fry-type dish. I was extremely hesitant even to try his, as he had ordered it “hot,” but it didn’t reach the same levels as the larb.
For dessert, do not pass up the sticky rice with mango. A neat little square of rice deeply infused with the rich flavor of coconut sits simply with a few slices of fresh mango for an utterly refreshing dessert. For the adventurous eater, the banana wontons were also a hit at our table.
While never having stood at a Bangkok street cart myself, I can definitely taste an authenticity to Busaba’s meals not found in other Thai restaurants in the area. Add to that the quick service and friendly family run atmosphere and this Thai flower blossoms into an easy favorite.