A Skeleton of Its Former Self (River Spice)

6 Oct

When River Spice first opened its doors in 2003, it breathed fresh air into the too-Americanized Thai food scene in Dallas. The interior space of the restaurant was elegant in a time when the phrases “upscale” and “ethnic” simply did not mix. Local food media were wowed by River Spice’s creative plating and unabashedly authentic dishes like whole fried fish.

Fast forward some five years and River Spice is not faring as well. The Dallas Thai food craze has come and gone, leaving River Spice with half a dozen other stylishly decorated, artistically plated Thai restaurants within a few miles of its bland strip mall location. Moreover, the city’s “it” food vocabulary has moved on from pad thai to everything unagi, wasabi, and edamame.

To cope with the increased competition and calmed customer interest, River Spice is adapting. Thick, black marker lines streak across the menus, hiding the evidence of River Spice’s glory days. A few specialty dishes, along with complimentary Wi-Fi, are no longer available. Long time favorites like drunken noodles and pla yang, whole grilled red snapper wrapped in banana leaves, are still offered. The change does bring one piece of good news to diners: a wine lover’s favorite phrase, “BYOB,” is hand scribbled on the menu’s front page.

These days, River Spice sees more coworkers munching down on value combo plates during the workday lunch hour than friends lingering over conversations at dinner. The discount lunch combo plate with complimentary salad/soup and egg roll is a tactic that most Thai restaurants in the area have adopted for survival. Speedily grinding out plate after plate of pad thai during the lunch rush, one of River Spice’s former star plates is now a pile of saucy orange mess that is almost as sugar-laden as the Pei Wei version. Glass noodle chicken soup, the usual complimentary starter to the lunch combo plates, presents a few lonely noodles floating in a broth that tastes eerily similar to ramen base. Cheaper cuts of meat are used to accommodate plateauing menu prices and rising ingredient costs. The portions remain large, but the slices of over-tenderized, chewy, mushy beef simply don’t belong. Am I eating at a jewel of a Thai restaurant or a low cost Chinese buffet? It’s starting to feel more like the latter.

Rating: 2 / 5

River Spice
18111 Dallas Pkwy
Dallas, TX 75287

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