Let’s set a few things straight: Chang’s (or more precisely, Chang Thai and Asian Cuisine) in Sherwood is in no way related to P.F. Secondly, as sad as this fact may be, there is a real shortage of good Thai in central Arkansas. Honestly, I’d trade a dozen run-of-the-mill burger joints for one or two great Thai places (I’d trade two dozen for a Korean barbecue restaurant, but that’s a different story). When I’d heard from a reliable source that the best Thai food in central Arkansas was in Sherwood, an area I rarely venture to in my food hunting escapades, it was only a matter of time before I made my way up there. Truthfully, it’s not so painfully far from Little Rock, but expectations certainly begin to rise as the drive starts to creep above the 30-minute mark. Luckily, our first trip to Chang’s was extremely rewarding. It’s not much to look at from the outside, but rest assured that much care has been poured into preparing what is unequivocally some of the best Thai in these parts.
The star dish, in my mind, was undoubtedly the Panang curry. I’m already partial to this classic Thai favorite, but Chang’s version was as good as I’ve had anywhere else. Panang is a thick curry soup, blended until smooth, and this version incorporated chunks of tender chicken. The curry was flavored with coriander, garlic, and cumin, but the most prominent flavors included fragrant and herbaceous notes of lemongrass, ground peanuts, and thick, creamy coconut milk. Diners are able to choose their desired level of spice (from a rather ambiguous scale of one to ten), and the entire dish comes with a small plate of rice. The flavors play together beautifully, the spicy and sweet notes making an entirely craveable interplay. The rich coconut milk, enhanced with the salty peanut, seemed to delicately coat the tongue as it slides down the throat. Luckily, it’s a fairly sizable portion, as more than likely everyone at the table will be jonesing to get a spoonful of this fine dish.
Someone at our table was bound to order the pad Thai…and I’m ever so happy they did. I enjoy pad Thai, it’s one of the safest choices when sampling a Thai restaurant for the first time. It’s popular because it’s generally pretty good, but Chang’s version was exceptional, actually. Their version is a blend of soft rice noodles, stir-fried and tossed in a creamy sauce of tamarind, eggs, vinegar, minced garlic, fish sauce, and scallion. The tamarind and fish sauce strike a nice balance between sweet and salty, the vinegar (as well as a squeeze of lime) adding a touch of sour. Our dish, again, incorporated chicken and was garnished with shreds of fresh cabbage, bean sprouts, and chopped peanuts for crunch. Another impeccably done dish—one that proves pad Thai rightly deserves the popularity status it has attained.