I should start this by telling you that I am not a critic. Truth be told, I never really understood why anyone listens to critics. Just because I like a movie does not mean you will. A food that is too spicy for me might be just right for you. So, what follows is not a critique but a story about a really cool restaurant that is off the beaten path. Matter of fact, its so far off, that if you don’t already know about it or find out from a patron, you would most likely never know it exists. And for me, that is part of the charm. Not to sell the food short—it’s very good too . . . at least I think so.
So, you’re hungry and tired of the same old cookie-cutter chain restaurants that clump together along Broad Street or at the Avenue, where do you go? If you are an adventuresome soul and like oriental food, I suggest Oriental Express, located at 1617 Bradyville Pike.
If you have lived here any length of time and know the area, you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, I know that area and there aren’t any oriental restaurants there. . . . Oriental markets, yes, but not restaurants.” I can see why you would think that, but you are wrong. Oriental Express is on Bradyville Pike, in the building at the corner of Minerva and Bradyville. It’s easy to miss because they don’t have a sign out on the road and they are on the back side of the building. Plus, it’s not visible from Bradyville nor from Minerva. Not only that, but there is an auto shop next door that does not do much to add to the ambiance. In fact, if you did stumble onto it, you might pass it by, just based on the surroundings. Now, put all that together, and it does not sound like a formula for a successful restaurant. But, once you open the door to Oriental Express, all of that changes. It is a bright, surprisingly modern-looking interior, complete with really cool steel tables and an aquarium.
The counter, where you will meet the always-smiling Jeremy, is sparsely but nicely decorated with the familiar trappings of an oriental restaurant; you know, the lucky cat and bamboo plant.
But, you will also notice the almost intimidating variety of available sauces and sides (crushed peanuts come alongside a selection of hot sauces and more on each table). Now, this is a small family business and this place, despite its hidden nature, is often busy. So, be patient if Jeremy is stretched thin.
Now to the meat of this story, the food. Oriental Express specializes in Thai home cooking. So again, I say this is not what you would expect at most oriental restaurants. Also, I must warn you, if you are not familiar with Thai food, you might not want to try it spicy. When you ask for spicy in a Thai restaurant, they take it personally. The heat scale goes like this: No Spice, Medium Spicy. Hot, Extremely Hot and Native Thai. Consider yourself warned. For most of us who like a little heat with our food, medium will do just fine.
I have tried several dishes at Oriental Express and liked them all, but my favorite is Yum Beef with the Papaya appetizer. I highly recommend the Papaya, it’s very good and much different than what you think it’s going to be. Their menu is well rounded, featuring everything from curry to noodle and seafood dishes.
As much as the food, what I really like about Oriental Express is the feeling of the place. It’s not the norm as far as restaurants go. There are no car bumpers or deer antlers hanging on the wall. It’s just a simple family restaurant that serves good food. Every time I have been there, I catch a glimpse of the little oriental woman in the back who I imagine has been cooking these recipes most of her life. Once, I managed to make eye contact with her and told her how much I enjoyed the food. I am not sure she even understood what I said, but the satisfied smile on my face was universal. She quietly nodded and shyly smiled and then disappeared back into the kitchen. That might not mean much to you, but to me, that was really cool.
In my humble opinion, Oriental Express is a culinary hidden treasure waiting for you to discover it. There are several places like that in the Bradyville/Minerva area, if you are adventurous enough to seek them out.
This city has grown exponentially in the last couple decades, but there are still traces of the small-town, family-oriented America I grew up in. You just have to go treasure hunting.
1617 Bradyville Pike
11 a.m.–7 p.m.