You know there’s a mini-revolution going on in a neighborhood when a hot, hipster bar (Frankie’s Tiki Room) and a good restaurant open up just blocks away from each other in the same year. That an Asian restaurant opened in a small space in the run-down, time-worn shopping center at the corner of West Charleston and Rancho Rd. is hardly news. (There’s been a number of them come and go in the fifteen years ELV has lived nearby.) That it’s as good as the Mix Zone Cafe, is quite a surprise, however.
The owners of the MZC are Daniel Coughlin, a Thai-Irish chef, and Natalie and Mario Araquil (she, of black, Puerto Rican, French-Canadian extraction; he, of Filipino). They also have a Thai-Mexican waitress, and a plain, vanilla (read: Caucasian) one whose lips are so pierced she could pass for a torture victim if she weren’t so cute and chirpy. Together, they’ve created an oasis of Thai tranquility amidst a dessert of dining choices on this stretch of road.
ELV won’t hold it against MZC one bit that the menu and preparations skew towards the vegetarian. Of course in any Thai restaurant, any curry or noodle dish can be added to with whatever meat or fowl you like, and Coughlin’s food is no exception. But to our taste buds, the non-meat items are where he lavishes the most love.
A recent meal had us inhaling his oddly-named “fish ball special” — deep-fried seafood balls with Sriracha hot sauce, and his pad kee mow “underground” — so named because it’s one of a dozen or so off-the-menu items that Coughlin hopes regulars (and regular-wannabes who go to his Web site) will come to know and order frequently. Both were things of beauty — demonstrating a light hand with the deep fryer and the right tonal balance of sweet, heat and savory.
Coughlin’s family owns The King and I Thai restaurants around the Valley, so he’s got the right pedigree, and his respect and passion for the food of his ancestors (along with a playful, creative streak), and the front of the house ministrations of the Araquil’s, makes the MZC a worthy addition to a neighborhood food and booze scene that, until a year ago, didn’t have one.
And besides the nice vibe, good food, and pleasant decor, MZC also has a really groovy, MySpace Web site. Both it, and the fact none of these folks were alive when ELV first started liking Thai food, makes us feel a bit like this guy.
But that won’t prevent us from returning again and again to what has now won the Official, Eating Las Vegas, Major Award for Best Restaurant That’s Closest To My House.
MIX ZONE CAFE
2202 West Charleston Blvd. #5
Las Vegas, NV 89102