The décor at Pick Thai is simple. It's mostly black, ceiling included, with a light gray accent along the middle of the main wall decorated with bright white handcrafted lilies that resemble floating butterflies. The dining room is small with only a handful of tables, black wooden chairs, two TVs displaying colorful pictures of Thai dishes, and a table overflowing with hand-carved soaps, flowers, and incense. A single unisex restroom is separated from the dining room by a freestanding black divider, and a kitchen counter reminds us of this space's former incarnation as a counter-service pizza joint. Wood flooring would give the room a more modern feel, as the tile floor is outdated and practically screams cafeteria.
The food at Pick Thai, however, is quite vibrant, adding color to the black-and-white motif. A fried duck breast rests on a pool of light red curry surrounded by bright green broccoli trees, slivers of red bell pepper, onions, and potatoes ($18.95). The presentation is stunning, and the dish tastes as good as it looks and smells. The tender-crisp vegetables are fresh, and the curry is knock-your-socks-off good. When ordered "as-is," the heat is moderate and nothing to worry about.
Ratcheting up the heat is an option with just about any dish, though I'd suggest moderate increments during each visit. If it gets too hot, no worries: The fire can be put out with a refreshing Thai iced tea ($2.50). Coconut milk is added to sweet tea, and it's a treat whether you need it to cool down or not.
The Crying Tiger ($13.95) is basic with few ingredients. A thin, prime cut of beef is marinated in a special blend of Thai herbs and grilled to a perfect medium. Colorful and tender, it is served on a bed of undressed mixed greens, accompanied by a side of "spicy" lime sauce that isn't so spicy. A tasty beginning, but I would've rather seen it listed under salads as opposed to House Specialties.
Pad Thai ($6.95 lunch, $10.95 dinner) is a make-or-break dish for any Thai restaurant, and Pick Thai does it just right. A large plate arrives with noodles, piles of chopped peanuts and sprouts on the side, almost as if it's deconstructed. Large, succulent shrimp, with tails on, sit on top. Where most places stumble is in striking the proper balance between acidity, fish sauce, peanut flavor, and spice. Though spice aficionados may want a bit more heat, the pad Thai at Pick Thai plays all the notes brilliantly with subtle fishiness, a strong peanut presence, and a touch of lime. Delicious.
Although the entrées shine, some of the appetizers were lackluster. Unlike 50 Cent, Pick Thai does not have the magic stick. In fact, the Magic Sticks ($5.95), described as "seasoned" salmon and shrimp in an egg roll wrapper with a side of sweet chili sauce, aren't very magical at all. So thin there's barely any seafood inside, the sticks are served in a flared glass with greens and a ramekin of chili sauce. The chili sauce is good and helped overcome the big fishy flavor contained in those tiny little sticks. The spring rolls ($4.95) are standard issue, if a bit greasy. The crab wontons ($4.95), however, are quite pleasing. They are large, crispy, and not greasy at all — and filled with large pieces of crab, cream cheese, and avocado.
The shrimp and basil rolls ($5.95) are easily the best looking and tasting of all the appetizers. A large basil leaf shows through the almost translucent rice paper that wraps around a tangle of shrimp, peppers, lettuce, sprouts, carrots, and cilantro. The rolls, three in all, come with two sauces: peanut and sweet chili. There were three of us at the table, which meant one for each of us, but I could've easily eaten three, or even six, on my own.
The soups and salads (six soups and eight salads) are big enough to sub as an entrée or to share with the table. Soup comes in a large bowl with small cups and wonton spoons to make sharing easy. An intriguing option is the Tom Yum Mixed Seafood ($5.95 lunch, $9.95 dinner), a hot and sour lemongrass soup that combines shrimp, scallops, mussels, and scored squid with ginger, cilantro, sliced mushrooms, tomato, and basil. The seafood was fresh, and the broth had a lot of flavor, although the anise came close to overwhelming the natural flavor of the lemongrass. It's good soup, nonetheless.
The best, however, was the wonton soup ($4.95 lunch, $7.95 dinner). There are no long, thin strips of pork and mystery meat-filled dumplings with soggy greens floating in broth here. Instead, fresh wontons filled with ground chicken float in hot chicken broth swimming with crisp baby bok choy, napa cabbage, and sprigs of cilantro. With this dish, Pick Thai elevates wonton soup from humble to gourmet.
What's really special about the entrées at Pick Thai is that they are very fresh. Although they do a lot of carry-out, this is not your typical Asian express takeaway. They remain true to authentic Thai flavors while utilizing local ingredients. The portions are large, the prices are reasonable, and the service is terrific. Pick Thai is clearly the best Thai food option for those on James Island, and perhaps in the Lowcountry. Sure, the Magic Sticks aren't all that magical, but that's easy to overlook when the entrées are as good as these. There's no question that Pick Thai is the right pick for me. Oh, and if you need one more reason: Did I mention they have Thai tea ice cream?