We had heard about this place for almost a year, and we finally were at the right place at the right time last night (not to mention being REALLY hungry–talking to other food-loving friends about food when you’re hungry just tends to increase the need, you know??). Anyway, we visited Blue Pacific at the Hoover Food Mart in Birmingham, AL and it lived up to all the hype. This is one of those places that you have to know about through word of mouth, or you would sadly ignore its delicious existence forever. No outside signage indicates this place is anything more than a forgettable convenience store. It’s off the main drag with only a few drink and snack cases surrounding a collection of simple tables. The kitchen behind the front counter is almost unnoticeable. When I first was told about this great little secret Thai place, the Hoover Food Mart was also a gas station. The pumps are no longer there, probably because the food fuel is now selling so well, who needs to sell fossil fuel?
When we arrived the owners’ daughter (a local college student) happily took our order, assuring us that everything her parents served was authentic and NOT modified for Western tastes. And she immediately claimed that her mom’s Pad Thai was simply the best, no exceptions. Even though that would usually be the last thing we’d order at most Thai restaurants, given that it’s one of the only dishes Americans know enough about to order and it tends to be a sticky sweet mess, we were swayed by her confident endorsement and quickly asked for 2 orders of the shrimp Pad Thai. We also ordered coconut soup with chicken (also something we’ve seen and eaten a lot in Thai restaurants) and an order of fried pork wontons, which just sounded yummy.
We grabbed drinks from the refrigerated case and took our seats (no alcohol allowed for dining in, but they did have a selection of beer and wine in the cases for purchase). Fine by us, Coke Zero and Perrier did the trick for this meal. The food did take a few minutes, both because they were quite busy with orders for take out, and it was clear all was made to order.
The soup and wonton appetizers came first, and they did not disappoint. Rather than a cup-sized serving you’d usually see in most places, this was a generous bowl of steaming soup with drizzles of thick coconut cream on the surface and sticky rice on the side:The flavor was rich, tangy and savory. The coconut flavor was true and balanced perfectly with lime and fish sauce. Fish sauce can often overpower a dish like this, but here it only enhanced the other flavors and made for an addictive first bite. The chicken was in fairly large strips, and we were anticipating it to be a dry distraction, but it instead it was tender and flavorful. We shared the soup (reluctantly) and were both craving it again today. Sadly, we found out right before an impromptu dash to get some more, that they are closed on Sundays!
The fried wontons were better than they had business being, given their humble appearance and how cliched a fried wonton can be, especially sitting next to the familiar sweet chili sauce for dipping. Man, what a surprise!! Not sure what sorcery went in to the magic little ball of pork sitting inside each crunchy morsel, but these were more addictive than the soup. Garlicky and rich, each one exploded with flavor. The owners’ daughter claimed she could eat 35 in one sitting. I think given the opportunity, we’d be right there with her. Maybe going for an even 3 dozen. We miss you already, little guys:We then dug into our dishes of shrimp Pad Thai (yay! no sharing required!) and from first glance we knew the daughter was correct–this was a beautiful plate of food, steaming-hot with a lacy egg topping. The traditional crushed peanuts and a lime wedge were on the side for topping, but the dish was nothing like the overdone, sweet versions we’d had other places. The flavor was much more complex and the noodles had that browned richness from pan-sauteeing. The shrimp were also of a generous size, perfectly seasoned and not overcooked, which is always a risk with shrimp dishes like this. This Pad Thai was satisfying and not cloying. I could have used a bit more lime on the side to brighten the flavors, but otherwise it was perfect. Pretty, isn’t it?We wish we could have tried several more dishes. If they had been open today (sigh), we would have gotten more soup and wontons, and probably tried the laap (seasoned pork served in lettuce leaves) and perhaps a green or red curry. We know we will be back sooner than later. This is definitely one of those places you see on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives–it’s a local, authentic, totally surprising place that those in the know cherish and share with others who value food done this way. Call ahead for take-out, or go and experience the “ambiance” (as one diner teasingly joked to his date), but do go. Here are shots of the menu: