Numchok Wilai Thai Restaurant

10623-124 St.

780-488-7897

numchokwilai.ca

Mon.-Sat: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Friday 9:30 p.m., Saturday 10 p.m.)

Closed Sundays

Food: 3 of 5 Suns

Ambience: 2.5 of 5 Suns

Service: 2 of 5 Suns

Dinner for two excluding drinks and tip: Basic, $30; loaded, $60

Graham Hicks

780 707 6379

graham.hicks@hicksbiz.com

www.hicksbiz.com

@hicksonsix

There’s a category of family-run restaurants in Edmonton, and I suppose in every metropolis, that is frustrating.

Mom and dad originally start the restaurant as immigrants willing to work all the time for the sake of their children. Years later, the next generation takes over. The parents are now old. Dad is now gone, but mom still helps in the kitchen and the signature dishes are still her recipes.

The next-gen, however, doesn’t do much. The décor becomes dated, no thought is given to modernization. Table service is by whoever happens to be around. The food’s still good, as mom still cooks part-time. The regulars come for their favourite soup or curry or tofu dish. But the menu hasn’t changed in 20 years.

Sorry, Numchok Wilai Thai Restaurant fans, those were my impressions of a restaurant that’s long been regarded in this town of a go-to place for traditional, dependable Thai cooking.

Numchok Wilai, run by the son of the original founders, has been in its current location on 124th Street for some seven or eight years. The parents ran Thai restaurants elsewhere in town beforehand. The name is translated as “Lucky Wilai”, Wilai being the mother’s name.

The tell-tale symptoms of gentle stagnation are obvious. The décor is circa 1975. The panoramic front windows are covered up by a garish, giant Thailand poster, leaving an odd gloom in the restaurant even on the sunniest of days.

Mom wasn’t in the kitchen the evening our party of five dined at Numchok Wilai … which may have been why the food was tasty, but not remarkable.

The “service” was by a young lady, perhaps a family member, who was untrained, knew nothing about the food, and brought a fish filet to the table rather than the whole deep-fried garlic tilapia we had specifically and carefully ordered.

Service at Numchok is fast. The dishes we ordered — green onion cakes, pa-nang chicken, pad thai, eggplant, coconut rice and what I wish had been a whole deep-fried fish — arrived all at once, literally within six or seven minutes of ordering. If you’re in a hurry, you can be in-and-out of Numchok Wilai with a sit-down dinner in 30 minutes.

Everything was good, but not extraordinary. Excellent Thai cooking is paradoxical — hot ‘n’ spicy, sweet and savoury all at the same time, yet with a soft, silky sheen and delectable curry smells most often described as fragrant.

Nothing at Numchok knocked our socks off, but it was good. (The restaurant deliberately keeps its curry and spicy dishes on the mild side, to be further fired up at customer request. We went with the default spiciness, very mild indeed.)

The green onion cake appetizer was tasty, crispy, billowy and fresh with a standard dipping sauce. At $6 for four good-sized cakes, they represented good value.

Pad Thai, a pile of noodles mixed with chicken and shrimp, is defined by its sauce and is the litmus test of any self-respecting Canadian Thai restaurant. This one, again, was good but not outstanding. The sweetness was subtle, the kitchen-made sauce softly enveloping the noodle mix. But no wow! factor hit the taste buds.

Likewise the pa-nang (peanut curry) chicken was sweet, creamy and gently spiced. But not much was happening inside the dish.

The fish — the filet — was dull. Oh to have had a sizzlin’ whole fish, where the hot oil crisps up the skin, and lovely pieces of steaming-hot meat are lifted off the bones. Mea culpa, the filet should have been sent back to the kitchen to be replaced by what we had ordered.

The eggplant, as a side dish, was actually a star. Hot, teeming with garlic and other well-paired veggies, it’s the taste that stays on in my memory from the dinner.

The deep-fried banana dessert — a banana inside a spring-roll wrapping — arrived with spray-can whipped cream and a grocery-store chocolate sauce on top.

The food is good but static. The decor is dated. Service is an embarrassment. It’s time for this Thai restaurant to pull up its socks.