This story is part of our OUT OF ASIA feature. Click HERE to read more from our deep dive into Milwaukee’s Asian dining scene.
A menu special popped up on the Facebook page of Franklin restaurant Sweet Basil (6509B S. 27th St., 414-301-4126) earlier this summer: egg roll-stuffed spring rolls. The owners had come up with the special “on a whim” – what they called a hand-held version of a Vietnamese salad.
That dish is an apt illustration of the Thai and Lao fusion restaurant’s menu philosophy. “We want to keep things new and modern and still pay homage to the history of the cuisine,” says Ken Sithy, a member of the extended family that operates this restaurant. It opened at the beginning of the pandemic, when Sithy says they didn’t know if they’d sink or sail, but it’s been off-the-charts busy ever since.
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While the crew is building a rep for more unusual specials, they also crafted a menu of more mainstream and knockout Thai fare. The tom yum soup is sweet-sour spot-on, pad thai is nutty, chewy, earthy with lots of veg, and panang curry is sweet, with a kick of heat from the rich orange curry paste. The drunken noodles – so named, one story goes, for being so spicy, you have to keep drinking alcohol to quench your thirst – are spicy, if you want them to be. They’re also savory and pungent (the powerful combo of oyster and fish sauces), and the thick, wide rice noodles have a tantalizingly slippery texture. (Entrées $9-$16.)
Another part of the menu is Thai and Laotian small plates ($3-$13) – from chicken satay to Thai-marinated pork ribs, Lao sausage to lemongrass skewers. And they’re doing fun fusion mashups like mixing jeow bong chile paste to fried rice (for a spicy, citrus edge) and even having popups that put a Thai spin on pizza. Sweet Basil is doing a stellar job of balancing staples with plates that redefine standard Southeast Asian cuisine.