Behind the Buddhist Temple of Dallas on Stults Road, off of Central Expressway and Forest in Far North Dallas, is one of the most marvelous rituals and richest culinary treasure of Dallas. Until the pandemic and quarantine put an end to it, from about 9 a.m. until 2 or 4 p.m. (or whenever the stands sold out on Sundays), you could find stalls helmed by small restaurateurs and aunties alike. They offered the most elusive, true-to-Thailand Thai food around.
Last Sunday, amid azalea blooms and curling plumes of smoke, the food stands returned. It had been a while—more than a year, as with many beloved in-person events. Consider them our humble, daytime counterpart to Thailand’s night markets.
Yes, it’s the same setup. (Okay, maybe a few stands shy.) Yes, you should go. It’s easy. Find street parking all along Stults, a residential road. Politely nab a spot. Walk onto the grounds, past elephant statues and colorful landscaping that evoke the boisterous lushness of a city like Bangkok.
Behind the temple—dominating, vibrant, ornate with gold finials atop its alabaster-white steps and filled with exquisitely fine murals painted by Thai artists—are the food stands. They beckon with clouds of grill smoke and the clamor of metal spoons against woks.
Here, coconut-milk curries are soft and soothing with chicken, brothy bowls bob with cubed blood, fluffy herb-flecked laab salads abound, and grilled meats of every kind beckon. It’s here I first found bundles of sticky rice wrapped in charred banana leaf when I moved to Dallas. I wander and eat, nibbling at pork skewers turned slowly over charcoal and also lemongrass-marinated beef skewers grilled over gas, while a woman brusquely pounds papaya salad’s jade-colored shreds in a mortar, along with a tiny crab and one, two, three Thai chiles. She’s the one you remember from before. Nothing has changed—though everything has.
The stand on the end is run by the temple volunteers, and there you can find combination plates. (I love the pumpkin curry heady with fermented chile paste and keffir lime).
Customers fill bags with food to-go. They load down with tubs of coconut milk desserts. They grab soups or snacks. Whole-charred fish? Yes. Sticky rice and mango? Check.
Bring cash (if you forget, there’s an ATM in the temple’s below-ground community rec room). Carry away treasures in plastic containers. Don’t miss the koi pond and garden gazebo that provide a tranquil spot as well as a stage for festivals. Read this article, my headlong, heart-goes-pitter-pat feature from six years ago, if you want mouth-watering eye-candy before you go and to learn more about the glittering temple.
And thank all the deities that be that this temple and its staunch community has managed to come through, rekindling the wok and carrying the flame.