I don't want to understate this: Nitally's is home to one of the most ambitious advancements in portable culinary technology I have seen in decades. From this wee restaurant in St. Pete's Grand Central district comes the simple genius of the Thai burrito.
I know what you're thinking: "I've had Thai burritos before, Brian!" Naw, you haven't, unless you've eaten at Nitally's. Other restaurants may throw a little cilantro or Sri Racha in a beef or chicken wrap and call it Thai, but that's merely unimaginative marketing hoohaw and fundamental small-mindedness that taints the truly great work being done at Nitally's. Why is their version so damn tasty, you ask? It's complicated, but bear with me.
Nitally's takes a plate of excellent Thai food -- maybe Panang chicken curry or basil beef -- and crams it into a burrito, rice and all. No fussing with adding Thai elements to traditional wrap or burrito tropes, just one Thai entree handily packed into a cylinder. Huh, maybe that's not so complicated after all.
It's difficult to look past the burritos, but if you can muster the willpower you'll find the restaurant's Thai take on tacos, where well-seasoned meats are piled high in fresh corn tortillas with cilantro and onions. There's Thai fried rice laced with smoky chorizo, each sticky bite infused with the slick fat of the sausage, and panang mole, an exceptionally rich dish built on red curry and Mexican mole, tied together with coconut milk into a seamless, baffling, delicious union of two cuisines rarely fused together.
The reason Nitally's fuses them so well may have to do with practice outside of the kitchen. The name of the restaurant comes from owners Nit Jintaseranee and Ally Valdez. He's Thai, she's Mexican. He takes care of the front, she cooks in the back. They're married.
Although it's all I've talked about so far, Nitally's doesn't devote itself to Mexi-Thai cuisine. Except for the last page, the menu is largely devoted to the usual curries, stir-fries and noodles of a neighborhood Thai joint, with a little more imagination in the kitchen that shows up on the specials board. And, unlike a neighborhood joint, Nitally's food is refreshingly lighter than the usual.
Like big leaves of romaine topped with sauteed chicken and veggies, brightened by citrus and cilantro, with just enough fish sauce and chile heat to balance the flavors. Roll the lettuce and nosh away. Soups, like chicken noodle, are brothy and clean, packed with veggies and chicken sized for spoons and cooked to an ideal tender-crisp.
Seafood dishes consist primarily of more soups and steamed fish, the latter packed with fresh herbs like lemongrass, lime leaves and galangal or doused in a light sauce of mushrooms and ginger. Nitally's mussels are what fine-dining chefs strive for when they want to throw in Thai flavors: herb from lime leaves and lemongrass, citrus from a squeeze of lime and spice from sliced chiles. Better to order them here than at those fancy restaurants.
Noodles continue that lighter touch, the pad Thai loose and free of that burned oil flavor so common in typical Thai restaurants. For a twist, order pad Thai curry, where the noodles are tossed with red curry sauce that gives the tried-and-true a spicy kick in the ass.
Nitally's curries have a freshness across the board that belies the use of rich coconut milk, kind of like how modern French chefs use minimal amounts of butter and cream merely to carry intense flavors across the palate. The green curry, loaded with shrimp, calamari and mussels, is packed with Thai basil and sweet notes from carrot that carry through every bite.
Hopefully, that's enough to get you into the place for more than merely a take-out burrito order. Spend some time and you'll catch Nit's lightly sarcastic sense of humor, be able to peruse the clever specials (like Mexi-Thai tamales) and soak in the neighborly feeling that seems reserved for insular districts like Grand Central, or Gulfport.
And there's no rule against ordering a burrito for dinner, anyway.
You peel them? Weird.
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