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So there I was, waiting for the 928 to take me back down to Fashion Valley, when I noticed a little café. “Thai Pepper Cuisine" (3361 Sandrock Road, 858-715-4676). It looked kind of open. This was around sunset, seven in the evening. I’m really open to suggestion at that time. Specially to Thai.

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Before I know it, my hand has pulled open the door, and my feet have walked me inside to this cute little eatery.

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Cream and blue cinderblock walls, a dozen tables, that black and gold puffy Thai art on the walls, of elephants and monks.

And, oh yeah, at the back, by the kitchen, carvings of a couple with their heads on their arms, and their arms on books and melons, sound asleep.

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Perky lady named Oy comes up. “Jes’ want a snack,” I say, and start looking at the menu. ’Course it’s so huge, I’m drowning already. And I thought I knew Thai food.

So I resort to the soups. The two I love most in da woild: Tom Yum Kung hot and sour shrimp soup with lemongrass, lime juice, and mushrooms. And Tom Kar, the addictive coconut soup with galangal (a kind of ginger), lemongrass, lime juice, lettuce and 'shrooms. Has a rich creamy-tart sweetness to it where I’ve had it before.

But I go for the Tom Yum. Sour, hot, usually sets the hairs on the back of your neck going all prickly. Comes in a bowl or in that great charcoal-fired hotpot. Love that. Hotpot costs $10.95. Madness I know. Specially as the bowl is only $4.95.

“I’ll have it in the hot pot,” I say. But Oy (“It means 'sugar cane'”) saves me from myself.

“Maybe too much for you,” she says. “The bowl has plenty.”

I’m impressed. She loses money on the deal. I agree to the bowl.

But then I can’t leave well enough alone, and before I know it, I’ve ordered a dish of Mee Krob (“crispy stir-fried chicken and shrimp mixed with tamarind and orange skin tomato sauce,” the menu says). Guess I went for it because it’s only $5.95.

When they come, I realize I’ve gawn greedy again. The Tom Yum though is fantastic, with a couple of hand twitches of hot peppers, and some of the gooey peppery stuff from the little spices tray too. I’m fire-breathing at the pain and the pleasure. Love it.

The Mee Krob was okay. Probably a mistake, though. Too much! Plus I didn’t realize it’s basically sweet. The owner and cook, nice guy named Thanakorn Sukjinda says a lot of people don’t realize that. Basically it's those crooked-back sweet, crisp noodles with chicken and shrimp.

But the silver lining is...well, I get it packed to take back to the lovely Carla. Fine, a sacrifice. But what man with an ounce of decency in him wouldn't sacrifice his future hunger for his woman? Except, when I’m on the bus, she calls and says “What? You’ve eaten Thai?? Without moi?? You owe me big-time Bedford. Don’t come home unless you have two hot dogs from 7-Eleven.”

“You don’t want Thai? I have some left over. I’m bringing it.”

“Yeah? Cold leftovers? Fuggedaboudit! Your punishment is hot dogs.”

I swear. That Carla. Love her enough that I should be finding her a hot dog addiction specialist. I worry 7-Eleven will run out.

But…heh-heh…this means I get to eat my Mee Krob after all, at a leisurely pace while the ravenous Carla carves her molars into those dogs.

And guess what? It’s actually kinda delicious. The sweet noodles, the chicken and shrimp, the lettuce, and the forest of bean sprouts with lime squirted all over them...it's like a healthy dessert.

But Carla and I agree: next time, it’s tom yum kung. There. Together. Hot pot.

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