Le Melon: Bangkok Balcony is Thai food at its best

Bangkok Balcony overlooks Forbes Avenue at Squirrel Hill (credit: Apeksha Atal/) Bangkok Balcony overlooks Forbes Avenue at Squirrel Hill (credit: Apeksha Atal/) Bangkok Balcony's crab rangoon is one of their signature favorites. (credit: Apeksha Atal/) Bangkok Balcony's crab rangoon is one of their signature favorites. (credit: Apeksha Atal/)

A couple of weeks ago I had a friend visiting from Princeton and as usual we were scrambling to find a place to eat. He lives in Pittsburgh, and went to high school here, but somehow had never heard of Bangkok Balcony, despite the fact that I — after spending a mere year and a half living in Pittsburgh — have eaten there a good five or six times. He wanted Thai food, and I knew where to take him, and by the end of the meal he was scratching his head, wondering how he had never eaten there before. And that’s no surprise, it is a little difficult to find.

Bangkok Balcony is nestled on the second floor of a building in Squirrel Hill, above a mattress store, but does have a decently visible neon sign indicating its presence at the entrance, where there are stairs leading up to it. The stairs are a little steep here, and to the best of my knowledge there isn’t an alternative wheelchair accessible entrance, so if you’re planning to take someone who has trouble with stairs, air on the side of caution.

What strikes me the most about the restaurant is its incredibly charming atmosphere. The view from the large window that takes up an entire wall of Bangkok Balcony looks out over Forbes, and at night, when cars are driving past, and the bold neon that lines the window pane light up, the view is unexpectedly gorgeous. I would highly recommend going around sunset for an enchanting experience. The waiters are wonderfully kind and accommodating, and the decor is a wonderful mix of reds and golds, with token Thai decorations.

Instead of your typical tablecloths, the tables are topped with a white paper cover, and in the past the waiters and waitresses have been kind enough to let me borrow a pen to doodle on its surface until my food arrives. The silverware is a little heavy and has handles that are swirled at the ends, and the food is bright and full of flavor.

A typical dinner dish here costs between 13 to 15 dollars, but the portions are pretty big, so you’ll most likely be packing things up for round two unless you’ve got a big appetite. If you’re looking for something that’s easier on the wallet, I would go for lunch. The lunch special here includes a wonderfully light soup with fresh tofu and a side salad along with your meal. If you order that, a drink, and maybe an extra side then you can still keep your order value under $15 and have food left to take home with you.

Yellow Curry: This classic sweet thai curry is one of my favorite things to order at Bangkok Balcony. Most of their curry, noodle, and rice dishes come with the option of adding one of many proteins, and for this I usually go with chicken. What’s most intriguing about this dish are the beautifully cooked sweet potatoes. You can cut through them like butter, and they complement the coconut flavor incredibly well. I might even go as far as to say I could do without the chicken. It wasn’t on the lunch specials menu though, which was incredibly disappointing, but if you’re going for dinner, ORDER IT.

Red Curry: Coconutty and spicy, sharp and smooth all at once. This is the curry to go for if you’re not particularly into the whole concept of sweet mains. I will say, though, that as the spice level goes up, so does the chilli flavor which masks the coconut more than I personally would like. So I go for the less spicy option, but if you like the chilli then I say go for that 10 out of 10 spice level.

Duck Curry: If you’re not into duck, I would be a little wary with this one. It’s got a very heavy duck flavor to it and the curry is very sweet and a little watery. I personally was not a huge fan, but I know people who love duck and were quite pleased with this dish.

Lemongrass Noodles: These are flat noodles (sort of like Pad kee mow) with a great and hefty lemongrass and basil flavor to them. If you’ve never tried flat noodles and you love the fragrant end of the Thai flavor spectrum, then I would try these. This is also, apparently, one of the more popular dishes, and is great no matter what the spice level is.

Crab Rangoon: Crab rangoon is one of those hit or miss kind of dishes, and Bangkok Balcony’s salty rendition is a definite hit. The filling is a fine puree that holds itself together, and the outer shell is crispy and delicately crafted. The sauce that comes with it, however, is very sweet, so I personally just dip a small corner in, lest the sweetness overwhelm my palate. They’re also so pretty to look at.

Pad Thai: Pad Thai is somewhat of a defining dish for any Thai restaurant. It sort of echoes the level of mastery of an establishment, given its simplicity and high popularity. For Bangkok Balcony, the Pad Thai was about a 7/10. It has a great balance of flavors, and the noodles were made well, but there was no wow factor. It was a typical Pad Thai that would go well with some curry or a meat dish, but I don’t think it fares as well as a stand alone dish.

Veggie Tofu Soup: This sounds like a boring dish, and I honestly wouldn’t have tried it had it not been a part of the lunch special, but it’s really an unsung hero. It’s incredibly light, and the vegetables are flavored and go very well. The best part about this soup, however, was the tofu. It was melt-in-your-mouth soft, and didn’t taste like that store-bought stuff you usually get at asian fast food restaurants. It tasted fresh, and the soup as a whole was very refreshing.

Hot tea with dinner, as you might’ve figured by now, is something that I have regularly. Bangkok Balcony has a decent tea selection including: House, Oolong, Jasmine, or Green. I’ve so far tried the Oolong, Jasmine, and Green tea, all of which taste pretty much like your run of the mill generic store-bought brands. That’s not to say they aren’t satisfying of course, the more bitter flavors complement a coconut-flavor heavy meal — as one would expect in Thai food — really well.

Thai Iced Tea: If you’ve never had Thai Milk Tea before, I apologize on behalf of all of those who should’ve ordered it for you and never did. It’s positively delicious, and this is coming from a lactose intolerant person. Thai milk tea is a sort of iced chai, but packed with very rich thai flavors. It’s a great way to balance out any spice in your meal because it’s cold, milky and sweet.

Cha-ching: The place takes cards and cash, and ranges from medium to high prices. It’s pretty reasonable if each person just gets a main and a drink for dinner.

Meat, glorious meat: There are vegetarian versions of pretty much every dish that can have meat added to it, as well as shrimp for all you pescatarians out there.

Rash Alert: GLUTEN-FREE OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE, and the servers are always more than happy to let you know what is in what in case you have any severe allergies.

Are we there yet?: Take any of the 61’s up to the Forbes and Murray intersection and then stay to the right side of the road and keep walking down. It’s above a mattress store called “Levin Mattress.” Here’s the address: 5846 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217. (It’s also VERY close to Everyday Noodles).

Click, click: The website is quite comprehensive. It's great for looking at menu items and delivery options and it has tons of information about the restaurant. Definitely worth checking out: http://bangkokbalconypgh.com/

For those stay-at-home days: They deliver! (Not if you’re too far away though). Call 'em up and find out if you can have something delivered to your doorstep: (412) 521-0728. This is also the number to call if you want to make reservations or inquire about the menu.

Sun – Thu: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Fri & Sat: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

21+: They’ve got a full bar and from what I’ve heard pretty good cocktails, and they also do mocktails.

Ambience: Every time I’ve gone, the staff has been very friendly and they know the menu quite well, so it was easy to get recommendations for meals and whatnot. The decor is simple and tasteful, and is a nice take on traditional Thai art and more contemporary design. It isn’t an awfully huge restaurant, but I have yet to go and have to wait more than five minutes for a table. Overall descriptors: Simple, charming, and warm.

College student friendly?: As was previously mentioned, some of the options for dinner are a little on the pricier side, but other than that I feel like I see more college students there than in other places. I’ve also seen lots of college students bring their parents here for dinner, so it’s got a nice mixed atmosphere.

Overall rating: 4 melons