Best of Flagstaff December 2020
Written by Gail G. Collins
Thai culture treats every meal as a social occasion. Generally, dishes are ordered and shared family style—colorful stir fries and fragrant curries eaten in happy company. The meal does not contain courses as much as choices from many categories arriving all at once. These include a variety of meat and fish dishes, served with rice and noodles, plus egg soup and simple fruit, such as pineapple or mango, for dessert. Within these dishes, a mix of sweet, salty, sour and spicy elements balances out a satisfying meal.
In Flagstaff, we are spoiled for choice with authentic restaurants owned by Thai people.
Such is the case at Pato Thai, where a strong clientele has been keeping its door swinging for years. Customer input has a great deal to do with their specific recipes. They strive for authenticity, but stress each restaurant in town meets their customers’ tastes. It has earned Pato Thai this year’s award for Best Thai Restaurant.
Pato’s veggie wraps are enticing and eaten like sushi rolls. The vegetable Panang curry is available with any meat, seafood or tofu and incorporates bell pepper, green beans, peas and carrots in thick gravy made of chili paste, peanut sauce and coconut milk. The tom ka soup, or chicken galangal soup, is a reddish coconut broth with two kinds of fresh mushroom, tomatoes, lemon grass, lime juice, cilantro and choice of meat or tofu—lively on the spoon. The papaya salad is large with zingy sweet and hot flavors in a crisp, shredded mix of vegetables and green papaya with a shrimp atop. A favorite among regulars is the pineapple fried rice, adding sharp and sweet to sticky comfort food.
The atmosphere at Pato gives the impression of eating in a roadside stand with a row of worn, pastel doors as a backdrop along the wall. Tight tables remind guests of busy Asian food halls, but with current safety guidelines in place as necessary. Dark wood, pale paint and chandelier sparkles contrast for casual glitz.
Asian philosophy centers around good luck, and Pato has channeled that local love. It has also enjoyed the serendipity. In August 2008, as Paul McCartney and his girlfriend Nancy Shevell, now his wife, traveled the storied Mother Road in a 1989 blue Ford Bronco, they stopped over in Flagstaff. Like past celebrities, McCartney booked into the historic Monte Vista Hotel. Craving a curry, the pair popped into Pato Thai for a late bite. The low-key couple sought no attention, but the doors were locked, and a private party ensued. Special vegetarian dishes were prepared, and Pato Thai guests enjoyed an unforgettable evening. A small photo of the staff and McCartney plus a signed menu remind guests that hospitality is always the best gift. BESTofFLAG2020