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Table Tripping 

Map of Thailand leads straight to delight

When Coventry's popular Mint Café abruptly closed at the end of 2010, it unwittingly seeded a fresh crop of Thai offshoots. One of them, High Thai'd, sprouted in the very same location. Another, Map of Thailand, took root a few miles to the west, in Asiatown.

Located in a tidy little strip of stores alongside Koko Bakery, Map of Thailand replaced the relatively short-lived Chinese eatery called Garden Café. While meals there were enjoyable, I had no burning desire to return. That is not the case with Map of Thailand, a restaurant that has seen way more visits from me than this job requires.

In addition to quality food, what's appealing is the restaurant's Asiatown setting. Wedged halfway between downtown and the Heights, Map is convenient to a large swath of Cleveland diners. And as the neighborhood's only restaurant dedicated to Thai food, it is in high demand — especially during lunch hours.

Map's location also appealed to co-owner Chinnawatt Scott, but for different reasons.

"Being in Asiatown makes it easy to get ingredients," Scott explains. "If we ever run out of anything, we can just hop over and grab it from the store."

If similarities exist between Map of Thailand's menu and that of the now-defunct Mint Café, it's to be expected: Many staffers jumped from one restaurant to the other. Indeed, Map's menu bears a resemblance to not only the one at High Thai'd, but pretty much every other Thai joint in town. Diners, Scott explains, prefer to see things that look and sound familiar.

Of course, it's not the name of the dish that matters, but the quality of the ingredients, along with preparation and delivery. Map excels in all these departments, plus one more: value. Items on the menu here are generally a buck or two lower than those elsewhere.

One offering I have yet to encounter in any other local Thai spot is the irresistible beef jerky starter. Slender strips of beef are marinated for a day in coriander, soy, and sugar. They are flash-fried to order, leaving them crisp, sweet, and only slightly chewy.

On the other hand, "golden bags" — tofu-skin bundles filled with ground shrimp, pork, and spices — are ubiquitous. But seldom are they as juicy, flavorful, and expertly fried as they are here.

Summer is the ideal season to become acquainted with Thai salads like larb and yum nua. Served cold, these bright and bracing dishes offer all the spice and complexity of a Thai entrée with none of the brow-moistening heat. While both feature chile-spiked vinaigrettes with citrusy notes, the larb is built around sautéed ground chicken while the yum nua features tender grilled beef. We appreciate that these items are offered in smaller (read: less expensive) portions, unlike the case in other local Thai spots.

Soups are one of the only areas with significant room for improvement. The seafood coconut soup is all sweet and no heat, and we could have done without the rubber-band squid.

Map's country-style pad Thai could — and should — be spicier, but that is easily remedied with a side of hot sauce. As for the Thai Basil, I believe that ground chicken or pork — as opposed to large pieces of meat — results in a better dish; but the preparation doesn't ruin the meal.

For a dish with wonderful textural contrast, it's tough to beat Khao Soi — or Thai Northern-Style — noodles. Like the Thai version of Vietnam's pho, this one-pot wonder combines noodles, meat, and broth in one glorious bowl. But here, the noodles are egg, the broth is spicy coconut curry, and the whole affair is topped with crunchy fried noodles. Too bad the dish doesn't come with the requisite condiments: pickled veg, red onion, lime, and hot sauce.

Map's beautiful Thai curries taste less sweet than others, and that's a good thing. We could not stop eating the elegant duck in green curry, its succulent boneless meat bathed in pale green sauce. In the massaman curry with chicken, coconut milk and peanuts lend a nutty sweetness to the mild curry sauce.

Thanks to its exceptional food, contemporary setting, and convenient location, Map of Thailand is another pin on the map of can't-miss Cleveland Thai eateries.

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