My first night in town, I got together with a bunch of friends from the Chicago area. We (smartly) put our fate in the hands of Leah - she's a restaurant reviewer in the area, and we knew she'd hook us up with something good.
Sticky Rice specializes in Northern Thai food, and if you want to get the best experience, you need to ask for the English translation of the Thai menu which has several dishes on it that are not on the regular menu.
We started off by ordering a bunch of appetizers:
Top to bottom (click pictures for larger images): Northern-style sausage, Eastern-style sausage, banana blossom salad, bacon-wrapped shrimp, garlic and black pepper quail. Oh, and we can't forget the fish maw salad, pictured at the top of this post.
The sausages were both quite good. The meat is packed quite loosely into the skins, giving them a more open texture than other sausages I've tried. The Northern-style ones were quite incendiary. The banana blossom salad isn't very photogenic, but it was one of the tastiest things at the table. The banana blossoms reminded me of very tender artichokes or hearts of palm, and the sauce was delightfully coconutty and a perfect example of the Thai goal of balancing sweet, sour, salty and spicy all in the same dish. The bacon-wrapped shrimp was in honor of Leah's recently published article on bacon, and it was pretty much what you'd expect. And yes, that's mayonaise drizzled artfully over the top. The quail was another favorite at the table - simple, but very good. They are marinated in the garlic and black pepper, and then deepfried. This same technique is available for some other meats on the menu, such as pork ribs. The fish maw salad was... interesting. I was glad to have tried something really unusual (seeing as how we skipped the "omelette with ant eggs." A fish maw is its mouth, apparently. In this preparation, they were deepfried, and basically came out as the fish equivalent of pork rinds. A fine thing, but not something I need to try again.
By and by we ordered some entrees. I was pretty full from all the appetizers, so I just shared bits of everyone else's.
The duck with basil was awesome. Definitely my favorite of the entrees. But everything was good. I can't say much more, because I was too full to eat much. We even - sadly - passed on dessert, although there were many promising items on the menu.
I can't claim to have broad experience in the ways of Thai food, but this was easily the best Thai meal I've eaten in my life. I'd heartily recommend it to anyone who's in Chicago and willing to go off the beaten track for a good meal. And besides, where else are you going to be able to buy that Tilapia skin handbag you've been coveting all these years?
4018 N. Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618