Thai bowls? Vietnamese soups? No bad choices here.
By Katherine Pettit Photos by Jay Browne
1501 Charleston Highway, #4
Columbia SC 29169
Facebook: Golden Chopstix
803 791 0206
Walk into Golden Chopstix on the Charleston Highway and you’ll find a no-nonsense eatery with delicately crafted artwork from Thailand and Vietnam and an entire wall filled with a map of Vietnam and a phrase “We Were There” with about 500 signatures scrawled in rows.
Originally founded by a Vietnam veteran and his Vietnamese wife, the restaurant is now owned and managed by a family from Thailand. Lwin and her husband, Nyo, have expanded menu items to include Thai favorites. She’s the chef; he runs the Asian grocery store next door which is open all day. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner, and is closed from 2:30 to 5pm. Prior owners taught her traditional recipes. She learned the Thai recipes from family and friends. A real Thai favorite is Tom Kha Kai, a coconut soup with Thai herbs, mushrooms and lime juice. Choose from chicken, shrimp, or tofu. This is homemade and tastes delicious. (I took some home. My spouse devoured it.)
The Thai aficionados enjoy the curry dishes, or perhaps “Amazing Thai,” a dish with steamed vegetables, peanut sauce, and a choice of chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or tofu.
Lwin says the versatility comes from everything being cooked to order—no MSG allowed. She explained one of the subtle differences between the two cuisines. “Vietnamese food is savory, with basil, lemongrass and cilantro, while Thai cuisine includes lots of lemongrass and is sour and complex,” she said. “The ingredients are often the same throughout Southeast Asia, such as coconut milk and ginger, but the method of preparation is different. There is no curry in Vietnam.” She adds that every cook has favorite recipes, so the end result can differ from family to family and restaurant to restaurant. Vegetarians and meat lovers will be equally satisfied, making it the perfect dining destination when your vegan aunt visits with her beef-eating spouse.
That’s what makes a trip to the restaurant so much fun. Can’t decide between a Vietnamese egg roll or Thai spring roll? Order one of each. They are very different but equally tasty. (OK, if I had to choose, the Vietnamese version wins – but only by a nose.)
Other favorites include Pho, a traditional rice noodle soup with your choice of meat. You add your favorite seasoning for a unique taste sensation. And there’s Saigon Beef, with strips of flank steak cooked with mushrooms, snow peas and Napa cabbage – perfectly seasoned.
The curries reflect the flavors of Thailand, distinctive and delicious. American clientele enjoy Vietnamese Buns (pronounced boons). Think of it as the original one-dish bowl. Start with salad, covered by rice noodles and meat, then garnished with peanuts, pickled carrots and cilantro. Mix it up or eat from top to bottom. It’s all good.
Salads are enhanced with their house dressing – a mixture of fish sauce, chili paste, sugar and white vinegar. Slightly sweet and very light, patrons order it by the bottle. Desserts are all from Thailand. Do not miss the fried bananas or Thai donuts. You can thank me later. (For the curious as I was, a thick slice of banana is wrapped in a wonton and deep dried, then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. The banana melts in your mouth, as you bite into the crispy covering. It might have been my favorite bite of my extensive taste-testing experiment. Could even go on a last meal event. Just sayin’.
Want to make this a date night? In addition to a simply marvelous sweet iced Thai tea and soft drinks, they serve adult beverages. Choose from a small but mighty beer list. Singha beer, from Thailand, stands up to the food beautifully, or perhaps plum or Monsoon wine (red and white) also from Thailand.
Framed awards from local publications make it clear that Golden Chopstix has not gone unnoticed. Reading through the stories, the superlatives just keep coming, and the awards span years. As a child of the 60s, the signatures on the wall touched me deeply, but just as endearing is the group of Vietnam veterans (ever-dwindling as the years pass), who meet and dine at the restaurant each year. Lwin makes sure everyone feels welcome. Before I left, the diner at the neighboring table offered her suggestions. “I’ve been coming here for years,” she said. “It’s really great food.” Amen to that, sister.