I have never been to Thailand, but I do love the ethnic cuisine known as Thai food. The food is a balance of salty, sweet, sour and bitter flavors that are usually accompanied with fresh aromatic herbs and spices. I have eaten at many Thai restaurants over the years and have learned the cuisine was influenced by other cultures including India, Portugal and China.
One of my favorite Thai restaurants is Thai This Express in Radford. A brick and mortar location attached to an Exxon gas station, Thai This Express began as a food truck. The always enthusiastic owners are Brian and Jang Lawson. Jang, lovingly known is “Mama Jang,” is a native of Thailand and is the mastermind behind the wonderful creations that come out of the kitchen. Mama Jang says one of the biggest culture adjustments she faced after moving to the states was food. As the couple traveled throughout the country, they would search for good Thai food. Mama Jang admits she was not thrilled with the Thai offerings they found. So when a friend asked them to cater her wedding, serving up traditional Thai dishes, the Lawsons seized the opportunity. From that job, the idea of Thai This Food Truck was born. Brian had been working in restaurants for 16 years beginning as a dish washer, and Mama Jang’s only restaurant experience was as a baker for a short period at Our Daily Bread restaurant.
The food truck was a big hit drawing a loyal customer base from the New River Valley and beyond. It has appeared at many festivals, breweries and other business locations in the New River Valley. The menu is ever evolving. The spicy pork bowl, shrimp noodle bowl, spicy tofu rice bowl, all sale for $9.49. Veggie spring rolls run just $2.25 each. The current menu boasts approximately eight items, including Thai teas, from $2.50-$3.75. They also offer ice cream floats, using Franklin County’s Homestead Creamery ice-cream as the base. After seeing several people seemingly enjoying the spicy pork bowl, I had to give it a try along with a veggie spring roll. The bowl consists of slow braised pork, cooked in a spicy tomato sauce and served over jasmine rice topped with jalapeno-cilantro dressing. My wife ordered the shrimp noodle bowl. It consists of grilled shrimp over ramen noodles, cabbage, tomatoes, onions and cilantro tossed in tangy lime dressing. The menu items can be prepared with or without spices of hotness. The popular pork bowl was lick-the-bowl delicious. The pork was extremely tender and seasoned well. The secret ingredient, jalapeno-cilantro dressing, gave the dish some unexpected heat that my taste buds enjoyed. If you’re not into spicy sauces, you should order the sauce on the side. My wife raved about the shrimp noodle bowl and it is now her favorite meal on the menu. The shrimp, she said, were cooked perfectly and married well with the ramen and fresh veggies. The tangy lime dressing added a freshness to the meal. The addicting veggie spring rolls are stuffed with cabbage, mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrots and served with a sweet chili sauce.
Thai This Express is located at 1401 Tyler Avenue in Radford. The business will celebrate its third anniversary on Dec. 7. The restaurant offers 25 seats inside and 20 outside on the covered patio. Brian said, “We have learned to embrace our location and the perception of being in a gas station and the awesome surprised looks when we get new folks.” As a result of COVID-19, the restaurant is serving diners only on the patio or you may call in or order online for pickup. The food truck also is out of service due to the corona virus. The staff at Thai This Express are extremely friendly and go out of their way to make sure your experience is awesome! The staff is managed by Isaac Newton who also works closely with Mama Jang. Although cashew chicken is the most popular requested authentic dish, I decided on my last three visits to try some of Mama Jang’s specials – items not on the menu on a regular basis, such as the sweet and sour chicken ($9.49). The dish consists of a lightly breaded chicken breasts tossed with pineapple, onions, and Roma tomatoes tossed in sweet and sour sauce, served over fluffy jasmine rice. The mixture highlighted the sweet and sour flavors that are associated with some Thai dishes. The following week, the special was black pepper beef and broccoli ($10.95). Marinated beef medallions are stir fried with fresh broccoli and garlic in a black pepper sauce and served over jasmine rice. I was pleasantly surprised with the explosion of flavor of this item. The beef, coated in black pepper, was fork tender. I recommend this dish becomes a permanent fixture on the daily menu. On my last visit, we decided to try takeout. The special that day was Thai-style Alfredo, consisting of egg noodles tossed in a delicious Thai Alfredo sauce with choice of chicken, shrimp or tofu ($11.95). I added broccoli and mushrooms for an additional dollar and it was well worth the buck. I chose chicken and my wife ordered shrimp. My daughter decided to try to panang curry with chicken ($9.49). It is a gluten-free dish that consists of sweet and creamy coconut milk curry with red peppers, lime leaves served over rice. The secret ingredient, jalapeno-cilantro dressing, gave the dish some unexpected heat that my taste buds enjoyed. This has become a popular dish that sells out before closing on most days. My daughter enjoyed the panang curry and shared that flavors were well balanced, and the chicken was tender. After sampling her meal, I agreed. I also tried Thai tea and a bubble tea and found both to be refreshing and thirst quenching.
Thai This Express is currently open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. The weekly menu is posted on their Facebook page. It has something for everyone including gluten-free and vegetarian dishes.