More than a few dining spots that we feature certainly come under the "You can't judge a book by its cover" category. Indeed, restaurants that are hidden gems are often so because they don't look very appealing from the outside. And Malai Thai Cuisine in Randolph demonstrates this more than most. Situated on Randolph's main drag (Route 28) just north of the town center, Malai looks more like a rough-and-tumble townie bar than a Thai restaurant with its drab brick exterior, frosted windows, and well-worn parking lot. But looks can be deceiving, as the outside of the place hides a pleasant, comfortable interior where patrons who are in the know dine on some of the best Thai food south of Boston.
The inside of Malai is a bit more spacious than might be expected from a cursory glance of its exterior, with a good number of tables filling its rectangular dining room. The three chandeliers that hang from the ceiling add a bit of class and character to the room, though track lighting cause some glare in some areas. The carpeting in the dining area seems a little worn, but it does its job in keeping the noise levels down, while the purple walls add just a touch of intimacy and coziness.
There are a lot of good dishes at Malai Thai; appetizers such as the meaty strips of Thai satay (beef or chicken) marinated in coconut milk, the Thai rolls (deep-fried and served with sweet chili sauce), and the curry puffs (mild and slightly sweet) are excellent choices, and fans of Asian soups have a number of options, including coconut soup, silver soup (chicken, shrimp, and glass noodles with veggies), and wonton soup. Six types of salads are also offered, including a seafood salad with squid, scallops, and shrimp. For entrees, the pad Thai (which you can order with shrimp, chicken, or vegetables) is a solid option, while the spicy basil fried rice has a great mix of hot and sweet tastes that come from the chili sauce and basil leaves. The Pad Ki Mao has a heat that sneaks up on you, as the stir-fried flat noodles and chicken slowly soak in the fiery sauce that comes with it, while the lemongrass beef is a better choice for folks who don't like the heat, with the veggies and array of seasonings nicely complementing the lean, tender beef. The tamarind duck is a favorite here, with crispy roasted meat mixed with vegetables and pineapple. Several curries dishes are offered, and diners can also choose from a number of meat and vegetable dishes, with such options as the outstanding hot basil plate, an entree that includes ginger root, another one that features bamboo shoots, and a dish with stir-fried baby corn and assorted vegetables. Desserts at Malai include fried banana, homemade traditional Thai custard, while drinks such as Thai iced tea (delicious) and Thai iced coffee (also good), lemonade, and a "cherry temple" can be ordered.
Malai Thai Cuisine is a very impressive restaurant, and a good option for folks in the suburbs who like Thai cuisine but don't want to venture into Boston, Brookline, or other areas that might be more crowded and lacking in parking. Don't let the rather grim exterior fool you; this is indeed a gem, albeit one that is a bit rough around the edges in the looks department.
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