Next-level Thai on Restaurant Row

by Brian Clarey

Downtown Thai emerged as part of the 4 th Street Renaissance that resulted in the Triad’s first proper Restaurant Row, the stretch of locally owned eateries that begins here near the bus station and unspools westward towards Foothills Brewpub. It’s on the north side of the street, in a classic brick building with fine views of the street and the empty expanse of green grass next door, Merschel Plaza, that’s crying out for a pocket park.

It’s a next-generation Thai place, a cut above the noodle shops, banh mi counters and grocery-store kitchens that proliferate the Triad — and it needs to be. The days of low-rent restaurants in our downtown districts are a thing of the past, I think. A restaurant that wants to make its mark in the urban centers of our cities needs to step it up, not necessarily in terms of price — though Dowtown Thai is among the more expensive and nicer restaurants of its kind — but through creativity, ingenuity and innovation.

It’s Darwinism, and it’s happening right before our eyes. While it’s gained a following at the bar with the after-work and evening crowds, a sizable chunk of Downtown Thai’s business comes during the lunch rush, when the office buildings empty into the sidewalks and the flow invariably leads them to this vicinity.

There are lots of lunch options on 4 th Street these days, from crab legs to bistro fare to pizza to cafeteria-style Asian. And this place seems almost too nice for lunch — a well appointed dining room with cloth napkins, marble tabletops and stylish dishware, a subtly attentive waitstaff and a menu that transcends the typical midday offerings.

Lunch at Downtown Thai means curry, noodles, sushi or pho. I have a hard time denying a good bowl of pho, but before I spit out my usual order I make a last-second adjustment and opt for a, a green curry dish with coconut milk, chicken and vegetables. It’s getting cooler out, I reason, and I’ve long been a fan of the psychoactive properties of good curry, which in me manifests in a gentle tingle right near my medulla oblongata.

After a quick first course consisting of a couple slices of sushi roll and a spring roll with duck sauce (do we still call that sweet, orange stuff “duck sauce”?), my meal comes in a geometric bowl with a generous scoop of rice. Normally I don’t mess with rice, but the thin and savory sauce in my main course practically demands it. The flavor is at once subtle and potent, spicy enough to make my eyes water just a bit but never so harsh as to fry my taste buds. Green curry is based on fresh basil and sweet and hot peppers, cut with coconut milk and tempered with coriander and cumin. It’s complicated, layered. It demands to be savored.

Along with the chicken, the dish had plenty of bamboo shoots and lots of slices of baby eggplant — the menu description totally undersold it. And for the first time in at least a decade, I used every grain of rice that came with my dish.


Downtown Thai & Sushi; 202 W. 4th St., Winston-Salem; 336.777.1422;