36. CHADA THAI
This is the little Thai restaurant that could. And by “could” we mean successfully and deliciously challenge Lotus of Siam for Thai food hegemony in our humble burg.
It did so by staying true to its roots while repositioning itself as a place for small-plates of tweaked Thai “tapas” that bring a sense of sophistication to the cuisine, while sacrificing none of its soul-blistering intensity.
Everything on the menu (and believe us, we’ve had just about everything on the menu) displays a vividness of flavor, and a distinction of spice that you don’t often get in generic Thai restaurants — most of whom settle for the identical spicing of all dishes (varying only the amount of dried chilies they toss into the mix, in order to satisfy that lame 1-10 scale so many of them rely upon to appease the gringos). Another common flaw in American-Thai places is a surfeit of sugar, as in: the cooks take the path of least resistance with American customers by drenching everything in sweet-sour sauces.
Not so at Chada, where sour, fermented pungency is the rule, almost as much as eyeball-searing heat. (You know you’re not in round-eye land when you can feel the sweat collecting on your lids.)
Thus will you try many a dish that seems innocuous at first bite, like a definitive pork larb or Miang Pou (crab meat lettuce cups), but suddenly have you gasping for air after a few chews. Ditto the Yum Nua (good rib eye steak with a chili paste-lime dressing), and any of the soups — of which Tom Saap (pork rib spicy soup) is our favorite — all of which create the pain-pleasure dichotomy that Thai food delivers so well.
Chef/owner/wine guru Bank Atcharawan:
…learned at Lotus of Siam that superior Rieslings — at soft and supple prices — are the perfect libation to wash down the pungent, sweet and incendiary spices of great Thai cooking. His list may not rival his former master’s for breadth and depth….but, as Samuel Goldwyn once said, it has great warmth and great charmth…and you’re a fool if you don’t take his suggestions for wine with your meal.
A final word about spicing: Bank is as risk-averse as any güero to the “Bangkok-hot,” psychedelically-singeing spices of his homeland, and agrees they generally obliterate your enjoyment of the main ingredient. He’s a wine guy, after all, and wants one half the occasion to compliment the other. That being said, beware of anything in the upper heat ranges. Ask for medium-hot and you’ll be able to both get the point of great Thai food and enjoy the wine.
Along with China MaMa and District One (and Chinese Noodle and BBQ a few doors down) Chada has helped create its very own little microclimate of great Asian cooking in the shopping plaza in which it’s located. You could make an evening just strolling between these restaurants, and a few others in the mall…and believe us, we have.
Just make sure you save room for some Riesling.
Favorite dishes: Tod Mun; Nua Dad Diew; Larb; Som Yum; Tom Saap; Yum Nua; Miang Pou; Fresh Oyster with Roasted Chili; L0-Ba (pig’s ear); Kai Yang (Cornish Game Hen); Nua Nam Tok (rib eye steak); Kang Tai Pla (fermented fish curry); All Curries; All Noodles; Basically the whole friggin’ menu + a couple of bottles of wine — preferably a Riesling, Chenin Blanc or Gewurtztramier..
CHADA THAI & WINE
3400 South Jones Blvd. #11A