Nat's is not a sit-down restaurant. There is barely enough standing room for four people near the counter that separates you, while you wait for your take-out, from the kitchen occupying a good 80 percent of the floor plan. It's your call whether to take the food home or enjoy it next door at McCarthy's Irish Pub, which is as far as it will be "delivered." What Nat's does offer is, quite simply, the most exciting Thai food in Lexington.
The menu at this South Limestone eatery might be the city's quirkiest as well, because side-by-side with the exotic flavors of northeastern Thailand you will find American favorites like burgers and Philly cheesesteaks, wings and cheese fries.
But I digress.
Whatever Thai dish you order, the first rush will be the perfumes of lemongrass and galangal (a milder cousin of ginger), garlic and onions, and perhaps Nat's own fish sauce, a complex preparation made by the chef with lime juice, garlic and hot chilies to complement rather than overpower other ingredients. Ahhh, citrus and spice.
After taking in these ambrosial scents, take your first bite. It might be creamy, sweet, salty, slightly sour — or all four — but it definitely will be spicy. Speak up in advance if you want the searing heat turned down.
The menu has specials and changes from time to time, but here are several great choices, all of which included superbly fresh rice, that have been available recently.
There is vegetable curry in a bath of coconut milk with red and green bell pepper, sliced potatoes, crunchy snow peas, fragrant Thai basil, onion and tomatoes. The ginger chicken is simplicity itself with little more than tender meat, red chilies, green and yellow peppers, and the warm taste of ginger.
Stir-fried beef is unique, and better, at Nat's: The Wagyu Kobe beef is minced to keep the tender texture while concentrating the flavor in each bite. The strings of basil and thin slices of red Thai chili contribute dizzying heat. The most dramatic aspect of this dish, however, is the presentation: It is topped with a fried egg over easy that adds a rich, silky mouthfeel.
Egg also blankets the pad Thai, but this time as a light and lacy pancake. Nat has a generous hand with the carrots, beans sprouts, scallions and peanuts, too. The noodles were slightly thinner than average, a nice textural variation.
The refreshing summer dish of shrimp and Thai herbs is loaded with shellfish, mint, basil, cilantro, lime rind, scallions, onions, tomatoes and lemongrass. Another delicious and pretty warm-weather salad is the spicy pork that mingles strips of meat with chili peppers, orange and green bell peppers, Kaffir lime leaves and scallions.
These dishes all travel well, so take them home and enjoy them with a semi-sweet white wine such as Lover's Leap riesling.
But some things are just not meant for take-out, like the whole fried tilapia called "fish in a garden." Imagine schlepping a footlong fish home in a box? Instead, arrange for delivery next door and drink beer. During my visit, this delicious and delicate showpiece, with crispy brown skin and tender white flesh, was abundantly scattered with mint, basil and bit of sweet lime rind, plus tomatoes, scallions and a julienne of ginger. It was a feast in every sense of the word.
Lexington has its share of good Thai places, but none is pushing the authenticity envelope like Nat's. That's the thing about culinary thrill seeking: It demands a chase for the novel, the stimulating and the epicurean, all of which can be satisfied easily at Nat's.
Address: 111 S. Upper St.
Phone: (859) 433-0197
Hours: Noon-midnight Mon.-Thu., noon-3 a.m. Fri., 5 p.m.-3 a.m. Sat.
Online: Search for "NatLexingtonKy" on Facebook
Other: Limited street parking. No seating available. No alcoholic beverages served. Open late night. All dishes: $3.50-$8.99.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.