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Pad Thai with rib eye steak and saffron eggs is a signature dish at Thaihey NOLA, a Thai restaurant in the French Quarter. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

For a restaurant setting up shop in the French Quarter, serving New Orleans clichés just seems like simple math. Of course it’s not that simple, as plenty of tourist traps following that formula come and go. But then you have restaurants that stake out prime French Quarter territory and serve something completely different, and then you see people flock to them.

I was happy to discover this dynamic at work at Thaihey NOLA.

It functions and tastes like a small neighborhood Thai restaurant, even with all the foot traffic along Decatur Street flowing past its sidewalk tables.

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Thaihey NOLA serves a modern blend of traditional Thai and international flavors in the French Quarter. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

It would work fine here with Thai restaurant menu standards, and these are represented. But it also brings signatures and surprises that go off the template. That’s just what I’ve been looking for this summer as my own cravings for the reinvigorating flavors of Thai food grow keener. We have a richer and more varied circuit of Thai restaurants today, and I’ve been visiting them to find their specialties.

Thaihey got its start in Baton Rouge, when Orawin Yimchalam Greene and her husband Nathan Greene ran it as part of the (now closed) White Star Market food hall. They turned it into a full-fledged restaurant in the French Quarter.

Mash-ups on the menu

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Arancini rice fritters get a Thai twist at Thaihey NOLA, a Thai restaurant in the French Quarter. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Thaihey has made its mark with mash-ups. One dish turns the idea of arancini (or Italian rice fritters) into the basis for a salad that feels light and refreshing but remains substantial. Cut into the crisp shell of each orb, mix the aromatic rice around with the greens and crushed peanuts and a dressing tasting of green citrus, and then spear one of the cubes of salami. It’s an odd twist, but the salty, fatty bits of Italian salumi work against the other flavors.

The tom kha ravioli is another Thai-meets-Italian creation on this menu, with seafood ravioli (crab and shrimp) bobbing in the classic coconut milk soup broth with fat stalks of mushrooms and big shrimp.

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Fried okra gets a Thai twist at Thaihey NOLA, a Thai restaurant in the French Quarter. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Other dishes work a little more subtle form of fusion. The fried okra is a delight, with a cornmeal crust clinging to it like a lacing (rather than a thick batter). It feels so Southern you can practically taste the cast iron skillet, but with Thai flavors enlivening it all.

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Smoked salmon larb is part of the menu at Thaihey NOLA, a Thai restaurant in the French Quarter. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

I’m a big fan of larb and will try any dish with this name. Usually what you get is a salad with ground bits of meat and abundant herbs and citrus. A smoked salmon larb caught my attention, but disappointingly brought curls of sliced salmon of the type you might put on a bagel over spring mix greens jazzed up with herbs and lime and rice powder. This was looking for larb in all the wrong places.

Different pad Thai

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Pad Thai with rib eye steak and saffron eggs is a signature dish at Thaihey NOLA, a Thai restaurant in the French Quarter. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Thaihey does have a version of one of the base level standards of Thai restaurants that is worth special attention here. That’s the pad Thai made with rib eye steak and an omelette’s worth of egg arranged on the side. Those eggs are streaked with saffron and sliced into strands so you can twirl them around the tamarind-soaked beef like a double dose of noodles. It’s a memorable rendition of a dish that is too often forgettable.

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"Beauty and the beet" is a mezcal and beet cocktail, served next to the tres amigos tequila cocktail, at Thaihey NOLA, a Thai restaurant in the French Quarter. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Thai restaurants are usually not the realm for fine cocktails. A crisp white wine or a lager are the normal pairings. But Thaihey’s bar makes drinks that are uncommonly composed for such a casual spot. Especially impressive is the “beauty and the beet,” an elegant presentation of smoky mezcal in beet juice with a dose of port for a richer structure.

Sipping one of these outside at a sidewalk table one relatively temperate night, the okra dispatched, the rib eye pad Thai on the way, watching the tourists stream past, made me wish this French Quarter find was in my own neighborhood.

Thaihey NOLA

308 Decatur St., 504-354-8646

Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 5-10 p.m. Wed.-Mon. (closes 9 pm. Mon., closed Tue.)

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Email Ian McNulty at imcnulty@theadvocate.com.

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