I always find it amazing when I manage to stumble upon an unusual restaurant in an unusual location. Not unusual in the sense that the food is "weird", but in the sense that one wouldn't expect to find this kind of food in such an rural locale. The first time someone told me that the small city of Canal Fulton housed an amazing Thai restaurant, I scoffed. Of course, after I scoffed, the foodie in me had to track it down and see if this rumor was true or not.
It's actually fairly easy to find Canal Fulton. Take State Route 21 south until you reach State Route 93, exit and make a left. Follow State Route 93 right into the downtown area and make a left onto Canal Street. V-Li's Thai Cuisine is located right there in scenic downtown Canal Fulton at 129 North Canal Street. V-Li's can be reached at 330-854-5344. Currently there is no website.
Here is a shot of the exterior of the restaurant:
The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday and dinner only on Saturday. It is just a short walk from the Ohio & Erie canals and all sorts of interesting shops abound within walking distance.
The restaurant has a nice comfortable feel to it, white linens lining the tables and a modest decor. It doesn't feel particularly Asian with the exception of a Thai chili pepper window surrounding one of the emergency exit doors.
Next up, a shot of the front of the lunch menu:
If you are used to seeing more authentically named dishes on the menu, you will need to do some translating in your head. The descriptions should be ample enough for you to recognize the classics of a more traditionally named menu. The menu is broken up into appetizers, soups, noodle dishes, curries, and house specialties.
I decided to start my meal with a bowl of the cinnamon beef and noodle soup. The description intrigued me.
What I received was an amazing bowl of soup. Even before my server set the bowl down in front of me, the cinnamon wafted through the air and caused me to sit up and pay attention. The best way to describe this bowl of soup is to think of the very best Vietnamese Pho you've ever had and then add the strong heady spices of cinnamon and star anise. To be fair, the star anise was very gently woven through the soup and if you didn't know it was in there, you might just miss it.
The cinnamon scent from the soup evoked sense memories of sweets, but it isn't until you tasted it that you got the savory. The only complaint I had was that the rice noodles were a little difficult to eat with the soup spoon provided. They kept sliding off the spoon and splashing back down in the bowl of soup. The solution? I finished all of the broth first and then ate the moderate amount of beef and noodles left in the bottom of the bowl. Honestly, though, the beef and noodles are completely secondary to the wonderful soup broth.
For my entree, I decided to go with a red curry pork over rice. Now the menu lists almost all of the curries as "2 chilies" of spice. And the largest number of "chilies" listed on the menu is 3. The last time I ordered a dish here at the "3 chilies" level, it just wasn't enough. After that meal, my server mentioned that they can make dishes hotter than "3 chilies". So this time I ordered it at 5.
Fifteen minutes after finishing my soup, my curry came out:
And a shot of the steamed white rice that accompanied my curry:
And a shot of my dinner plate:
This was the perfect level of heat for me. I know it would be hotter than most patrons would want (especially non-Thai patrons), but for me, this had that nice balance between the extreme heat and the mellowness that the coconut milk brought to the dish. The vegetables were nicely cooked, still being a little bit crunchy, but the pork, sadly, was a too chewy due to overcooking in the wok.
On visually inspecting the plate I had placed my dinner onto, you could immediately see the difference between a "3" and a "5" chili level. Gentle reader, I give you
an actual Thai chili!. I submit to you that words such as "a little bit spicy" or "extra spicy" or "really really spicy" don't carry much weight when trying to indicate to your server what level of spice you really want. To this chili head, a "3" was a little less than moderate and a "5" was just about perfect. Spicy enough to give your mouth a nice steady burn, but not so much that the flavor of the food is lost.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at V-Li's. I will warn you that service can be a bit relaxed, even with the restaurant only 1/3 full. Not slow, per se, but I wouldn't be stopping in here for lunch if I was on a tight schedule. I left V-Li's with a full stomach and a mouth that was still tingling for a good ten minutes after I left. If you find yourself wanting to take in a little bit of small town Americana but don't want to completely abandon civilization, I heartily recommend V-Li's Thai Cuisine in Canal Fulton.