There was a time, Munch is sure, in Pittsburgh, when Asian restaurants were not so common, when work-weary families were far more prone to get pizza delivered than to pick up Chinese takeout. But Asian restaurants have entered a new age of ubiquity.
The opening of the adorably alliterative Curry on Murray, which replaced the Israeli restaurant Sababa Middle Eastern Restaurant & Grill, is emblematic of the trend. Located on Murray Avenue across the street from the Hatfields and McCoys of Pittsburgh pizza, it brings the number of Thai restaurants in the historically Jewish neighborhood -- which is also home to a Taiwanese snow cone joint and Belgian waffle spot -- to four, if you count the pan-Asian Sun Penang.
And this means Pittsburghers can afford to be a little more discriminating.
Which is why, maybe, bringing Enthusiastic Eater Friend of Munch was not the best plan. Raised on hot dogs and hamburgers, EEFOM's favorite food city is not Paris or New York or even Austin, Texas -- but Buffalo, N.Y., home of the buffalo wing, the beef on weck and pretty good pizza.
In that vein, Munch and EEFOM started by ordering the Thai Buffalo Wings, a wonderful fusion of the traditions of frigid upstate New York and those of balmy Bangkok. At $6.95, the price felt a little steep for just four wings. But they were tasty, preserving the vinegar tartness of the Buffalo wing with a hint of soy and spice reminiscent of Thai dishes. And they were perfectly cooked, with a little crisp on the outside and lots of tenderness on the inside. But it was a little unclear on how to use the mysterious accompaniments -- some sliced cucumbers and peanuts. EEFOM, a veritable wing expert, heartily approved.
Munch ordered the lemongrass soup with tofu ($6.95), which came in a small bowl with a deep-fried square of tofu and sliced mushrooms. Munch was hoping for a few more vegetables since it was the precursor to our entree calorie-fest, but the broth was intensely tart and spicy, just as Munch likes it.
For entrees, Munch and EEFOM went for the intriguing Thai sausage fried rice ($10.95), the green curry with pork ($11.95). Munch also got the ka prao ($11.95), a dish of sauteed ground pork or chicken stir-fried with green beans that's not found on many menus in Pittsburgh.
The fried rice -- with egg, scallions and generous diagonal slices of sweet sausage -- was triumphantly greasy. As was the ka prao, which came with a healthy dose of wilted Thai basil and the double-protein-whammy of a fried egg. EEFOM loved both dishes, though admitted he had little frame of reference.
But the green curry, a dish that has healthy competition from other Pittsburgh Thai joints, fell a little flat. It was spicy and chock-full of vegetables, but its rich gravy lacked the intense pepper-y flavor that Munch is accustomed to.
Still, even for discriminating Thai foodies, Curry on Murray has a few things to offer that make it worth the journey. (And located in proximity to the Squirrel Hill tunnels, it may indeed be a journey). The ka prao is one of Munch's favorite Thai dishes and isn't something you'll find on many menus. They also serve papaya salad ($8.95), one of the most popular dishes in Thailand that is also scarce in the Steel City. Finally, our service was cheerful and genuinely enthusiastic, sort of like Pirates fans. And with food like this, why wouldn't it be?