With smartphones virtually universal, it is difficult to find any time in the day free from the ring of incoming emails or text messages. More than just offering a night out from cooking, restaurants offer refuge from the stress of everyday responsibilities. Pusadee’s Garden in Lawrenceville, away from most other shops on Butler Street, is distinctly independent from most other restaurants. It seems to be its own little world, which is totally fine because there are few better places to spend an evening.
Pusadee’s Garden serves Thai fare that can be found at many similar restaurants, but with an attention to detail that is nearly unprecedented. Pork dumplings are spiced and chewy, without gumming up the mouth. Curry puffs are filled with a warm and rich medley of squash and sweet potatoes, offering a sweet and spicy appetizer that keeps the winter out. The fresh rolls are possible the most impressive. The rice paper is soft, and the taste of basil is strong. Combined with crisp lettuce and bean sprouts, this ubiquitous appetizer is transformed into an ode to freshness. Even better, each appetizer comes with its own unique dipping sauce. Pork dumplings are served with spicy soy, the curry puffs with cucumber-vinegar chutney, and the fresh rolls with a delicious chili-honey sauce. Each is unique and thought-out, complementing their dish and tasty enough to sample on the tip of a fork.
Many of the usual suspects of Thai restaurants appear on the menu, but with several interesting, more authentic choices. Khao soi, a fantastic noodle dish, resembles a curry. Served in a soup bowl brimming with yellow curry this dish presents an all-cure; enough spice to clear sinuses, enough smooth egg noodles to settle a troubled stomach, enough cauliflower and broccoli to rejuvenate the body, and enough fried glass noodles on to add a fun crunch. It is a dish rich in texture and flavor.
Crispy Tilapia is another astonishing creation. A thin fried layer surrounds the tender fish, and it is topped with a burning garlic sauce, which resembles a homemade Siracha. With bountiful amounts of chili and red pepper flakes, it is intense (when ordered medium, the dish came out pretty hot). A bed of vegetables and a side of rice dim the heat, but it’s the sharp bite of the “3 flavor sauce” that gives the dish its power.
In keeping with the season, Pusadee’s pumpkin curry is another tasty surprise. Sweeter than the curry served in the khao soi, chunks of pumpkin and sweet squash mix with slices of pepper and carrots mingle with silky tofu. While the curry is spicy, chunks of squash sooth the sizzle. These entrees, just like most everything at Pusadee’s Garden, showcase a depth and variety unmatched in many Thai restaurants.
There are also a few dessert options, and it would be a crime to skip the heavenly coconut ice cream. Draped with strips of mango, the ice cream has chunks of coconut within. Tasting like actual coconut, and not too sweet either, this is a dessert good enough to eat in any season.
The restaurant itself has a welcoming and intimate atmosphere. It is one skinny room, but with lovely white embossed walls and paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. There is a large outdoor garden with tables, but inside the restaurant is small and cozy, perfect for an escape from the cold. Service is attentive, timely, and caring without being intrusive.
After the coconut ice cream was cleared and the check was placed on the table, my family wasn’t ready to live. With the echoes of chatter around the walls, the occasion glimpse of a child running around in the back, and the smell of curry floating in the air, it was better than going home. Winter was stuck outside, work was stuck at the house, and we were here, away from it all. For two hours, these problems faded away, and all that mattered was the rush of flavors that flooded in, the waves of conversation that came and went, the satisfied groan of noodle-filled stomachs. For two hours, the stress and strain of the week was soaked up by plates of rice. For a meal, this is everything we want.(Pusadee’s Garden is located on 5321 Butler Street in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Entrees range from $11-$18.)