Sunday, April 23, 2006

Charlie Brown's Tex-Mex Cantina

Location: Off Sukhumvit Soi 11 on a dead-end side alley. Get off the skytrain at Nana and walk down Soi 11. Take the first left into an alley (you'll see Cheap Charlie's, a small outdoor bar, as you walk down the alley). Follow the alley as it veers right, and you'll find Charlie Brown's on the left.
Phone: 02-651-2215
Prices: Inexpensive to reasonable. Under B1000 for two people (without alcohol).
Note: Dinner only. Opens at 5:30 PM

The Tamale's Take
Mexican food is a rare treat in Bangkok, and good Tex-Mex is even rarer. Follow Sukhumvit Soi 11 to this gem in the Bangkok food scene. Charlie Brown's should be on everyone's "must eat at" list. Highly recommended.
I'm seriously in danger of becoming a cheerleader for Charlie Brown's Tex-Mex Cantina. I don't want to come off as too over-the-top, but I'm truly excited to find good Tex-Mex in Bangkok. As a native Texan, I know what good Tex-Mex should taste like. I've dined in Mexican restaurants from Amarillo to Austin, San Antonio to Sweetwater. I'm not called the Hot Tamale because I like ice cream! When I give a thumbs up to a Mexican restaurant, especially one in an out-of-the-way place like Kansas or Thailand, that says something.

Walking into Charlie Brown's is like walking back in time into a bit of Americana. An old-fashioned gas pump greets you at the door. Beer cans line shelves high up on the walls,
and Kansas license plates are clustered around the restaurant. There are even a couple of car grills hung on the walls. A barrage of 80's music completes the atmosphere (think Lionel Richie, Bryan Adams, and the theme to Flashdance). While definitely low-brow, Charlie Brown's is comfortable and even a bit cozy. It's possible to forget you're in Thailand for an hour or two. The one thing that would make the atmosphere reflect the cuisine a little bit better is playing salsa or Chicano music rather than 80's pop. Eating fajitas while grooving to "Summer of '69" seems a bit too weird.

On to the food.
The free chips and salsa says a lot about the place. So many so-called Tex-Mex places serve chips that taste like last year's cardboard--not so at Charlie Brown's. The chips are light and delicate and in endless supply. The red salsa is made fresh and is seasoned just right, not too spicy but enough to make you sit up and take notice. Gobble away, but try to save some salsa for your dinner companions.

For starters, go for the queso (for the tragically uninformed, queso means cheese in Spanish, and in Mexican restaurants is usually served piping hot mixed with spices and eaten with crispy tortilla chips). Charlie Brown's queso is some of the best I've had outside of Texas. Made with high-quality cheese (no Velvetta here!), it will harden rather quickly as it cools. Let it cool too much and you're in for a chip-breaking experience. Eating it fast should be no problem, though, as it's absolutely wonderful.

Main courses range from a mountain of nachos (I would hardly call them an appetizer) to fajitas to enchiladas and chimichangas in beef, chicken, or pork. Make your own enchiladas like I do. I order them with chicken and cheese, but the veggie crowd will love them with bean and cheese. The three stuffed corn tortillas burst with flavor, as does the crowning ranchero sauce. The highlight of the main course meals, though I hate to admit it, is the refried beans. Smokey, seasoned, and all-around "slap your mamma" good, you'll wish you had a bigger bowl of them. The beans come in two varieties: one for carnivores, the other for vegans. Take your pick, but the meat-seasoned one is my favorite.

If you guzzle water on a hot Bangkok evening like I do, you'll love the huge bottles of cold water they bring to your table. No more asking the waitress to bring another bottle every five minutes. If you like margaritas, Charlie Brown's serves them up cold and tasty, just right for a pile of nachos.

The service is quite good. Chris, the youthful and energetic manager, keeps patrons happy, smoozing diners like a celebrity chef. A winning personality and positive attitude go such a long way in improving customer service. My sombrero off to Chris!

For a great Tex-Mex meal in the heart of Bangkok, pay Charlie Brown's a visit. Come hungry, and you won't be disappointed.

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