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South Side Cheap Eats: Bangkok Thai 55

By Chuck Sudo in Food on May 22, 2007 3:00PM

2007_05_BT55_1.jpgFor 25 years, Thai 55 in Hyde Park has been serving up quick Thai food for Hyde Park residents and U of C students. But did you know that there's a smaller restaurant on 31st Street in Bridgeport, just west of Canal, with the same exact menu? The full name for Bangkok Thai 55 is "Bangkok Thai 55 Authentic Thai Cuisine, Formerly Thai 55 in Hyde Park Since 1982 to 2004." It isn't as long or obsequious as a Fiona Apple album title, but still a mouthful. The confusing restaurant name, which smacks of sibling rivalry if not false advertising, is one of many problems we have with Bangkok Thai 55. Another problem is the door buzzer, which we don't think is necessary for this particular stretch of 31st Street. This isn't some bar where drunken cops hide out for the length of their shifts. It's a Thai restaurant. Still, we were let in with little delay and no interaction outside of placing our order, which consisted of one egg roll ($1.50) and one drunken noodle with chicken entree ($7.50). As we sat in the empty and tiny dining area, we realized that every time we passed Bangkok Thai 55, the dining area was empty.

2007_05_BT55_2.jpgWe ordered our food to go. When we made it home,
we discovered our next problem with Bangkok Thai 55. They got our order wrong, giving us drunken noodles with beef instead of chicken. We'll assume some of the responsibility for this, as we should have checked the order before we left. But we remember clearly asking for "chicken," and since we didn't feel like walking back to have them correct the order, we bit a bullet. The drunken noodles were nothing special. The rice noodles were over-cooked, the beef had plenty of spicy heat, but was otherwise dry and unappealing, served with under-sauteed green beans, white onions, and zucchini. The egg roll came with sides of plum and red chili sauces. We used the plum sauce for the egg roll, and added the chili to the drunken noodles in increments. It had the spice we were looking for. But it wasn't chicken. And we were out of antacid, so this came back to taunt us at work all last night.

After we finished our meal, we pondered what we just experienced. We came to the conclusion that what we experienced was apathy. Here is a Thai restaurant in a neighborhood wanting for some diversity in its dining options, announcing in their marquee and menu literature that they used to be well-known in its former neighborhood, makes customers ring a doorbell to enter, gets the order wrong, and basically does enough to stay in business for just one more day. It would be so easy for Bangkok Thai 55 to thrive if they decided to focus on the present and strive for more than being the sole Thai restaurant in Bridgeport. As it stands, the constant references to the more well-known Thai 55 keep Bangkok Thai 55 from being truly embraced by the neighborhood; its empty dining area a telling metaphor for the ghosts it refuses to release.

Bangkok Thai 55 is located at 451 W. 31st Street. They're open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m., although Sunday is set aside strictly for carry-out orders (another issue we have with them). Call them at (312) 326-5819.