I first ordered khao soi on a whim a long time ago, back when I lived in Norman and believed that the world existed between the city’s opposite 24th streets. At that time, I stuck to a handful of restaurants and slowly worked my way through their entire menus during my lunch breaks, making notes of what items stood out.

Later, I (briefly) lived in Los Angeles. During that time, a friend invited me to try his favorite bowl of khao soi in the city. It was good, but, more than anything, it made me miss home. I couldn’t figure out what was different, but it didn’t feel the same or taste as good as I remembered. After that bowl, I made a promise to return to Norman some day and fact-check my memories against reality.

Since making that promise to myself, I’ve thought about khao soi, specifically khao soi from Thai Delight in Norman, Oklahoma, as a mythical soup that I was a little bit wary of trying again if only for the fear of having to come to terms with my own nostalgia. Things aren’t always as good as they are in your memories, after all.

Thai Delight serves up revelatory dish

Nestled beside Wizard’s Asylum, a comic shop where weekend warriors wage battles with Magic cards, sits Thai Delight, an unassuming Norman restaurant that long ago served me one of the most important bowls of soup I have ever tasted: khao soi (listed on Thai Delight’s menu as “kao soi.”)

It was a revelation of sorts. Before that moment, I didn’t know soup could be this milky. Khao soi transmutes curry’s most palatable properties into an addictive, easy-to-slurp broth. Coupled with teetering levels of spiciness, the soup teases as if it might overstep its bounds between playful heat and uncomfortable sweat, but the coolness of coconut milk mitigates the situation.

Former Frank’s Wurst owner comes with (to keep me honest)

During a recent trip to Thai Delight, I realized it had been over three years, maybe four, since I had this soup in this restaurant. Accompanying me on the journey was Kody Hookstra, former proprietor of Frank’s Wurst: an ambitious bratwurst cart/catering service/bar kitchen that was ahead of its time. Years ago, I would get drunk late at night and find Kody to talk his ear off about khao soi while he made me whatever was in his kitchen.

So, I’ve been hyping this soup up to Kody for over three years. I wanted him to try khao soi at Thai Delight to keep me honest; to make sure everything was as good as I said it was going to be.

Recent visit delivers deliciousness

Upon ordering, the waitress asked us what kind of protein we wanted as well as what level of heat we would prefer on a scale of one to five. (I had a friend who once made the mistake of ordering a level 10 on a scale that ended at five. Afterward, he said could he imagine the cook in the back dousing his food with peppers while muttering, “This motherfucker.” This image in my head always prevents me from ordering maximum heat.) Both Kody and I settled on four. He ordered beef, and I selected chicken.

After a short while, our soup came: milky green broth with specks of fire floating throughout the bowl like flavor landmines, topped with crispy noodles and green onions. Boiled noodles hid beneath the surface. We both sampled our soup and confirmed right away that it was indeed good — damn good.

There was nothing wrong with the proteins or noodles, but the real star of the bowl is the broth. Small hints of basil were cutting through, but, with the heat layering itself with every sip, I had trouble confirming its presence.

“I thought they were pulling punches with the heat, but it’s getting there,” Kody said, taking another spoonful of broth.

khao soi
Former Frank’s Wurst owner Kody Hookstra finds the bottom of his khao soi bowl during a recent trip to Thai Delight in Norman,
Oklahoma. (James Nghiem)
Level-four heat ended up being the perfect amount of spice, never overwhelming and being just hot enough to feel dangerous. The bits of crispy noodles provided a nice texture detour, and the boiled noodles were easy to eat.

“It almost feels like I’m accomplishing something,” Kody said as he sipped broth from his spoon. “It’s making me feel really relaxed.”

Is Thai Delight’s khao soi so good that it can hypnotize people into a sense of accomplishment? I wonder …