True to its name, 15 dishes on Siam Taste Noodles' menu are made with noodles and offer plenty of taste. Rice noodles soak up the spicy-sour broth of tom yum soup, and glass noodles tumble with egg, baby corn, and mushrooms in pad wun sen. The kitchen also crafts dishes such as chicken in garlic sauce and panang curry, which are some of the most popular entrees as determined by the number of diners who save a seat for them at their table.
Even in his early days of crafting culinary masterpieces, Chef Arun Sampanthavivat spoke as if his life was a perpetual swan song. In 1998, the New York Times began its article "The Great Chefs Go to Him To Be Dazzled" with the words, "To hear him talk, you might think he's a man with regrets." Later on, Sampanthavivat described his numerous four-star reviews as ?a blessing and a curse . . . I have to live up to every word they say.? Wolfgang Puck added another potentially bad omen by calling Arun?s "probably the best Thai restaurant in the country." Cursed or not, it still earns acclaim nearly 15 years later, most recently from Chicago magazine, which characterizes the eponymous eatery as "a treasure" whose "tiniest elements amaze."
At his Albany Park mainstay, Chef Arun builds elegant arabesques, filling his tasting menus with spiced pork lar atop grilled sweet pepper, and sea scallops drizzled in kabocha chili sauce. This attention to detail and workmanlike approach extends to the dining room, which is decorated with Thai artwork curated by Arun himself. Even the website's gentle piano music was composed by the tireless chef, further showing that, in the culinary world, he?s the closest thing we have to a genuine auteur.
Every Friday and Saturday night, an insiders-only karaoke jam fills Dharma Garden's pastel-colored walls with music. During a recent visit by Time Out Chicago, the crowd—mostly comprised of staff members from other Thai restaurants—burst into applause as Dharma chef and owner Vilairait Junthong, AKA "Little Aunt," grabbed the mic to sing her favorite tune, Sirintra Niyakorn's "Roo Wa kao lhok," which roughly translates to "You Treat Me Wrong".
In the more than ten years since arriving in Chicago from her hometown of Prajinburi, Little Aunt has done more than just bulk up Dharma's Thai menu. Chicago Thai restaurants Sticky and Spoon Thai have called on Junthong to outfit their menus with Northern Thai specialties such as marinated beef jerky and Chinese-influenced rice soup. She's also stayed true to a no-land-animals pledge––one reason of many why Time Out Chicago has named Dharma Garden a Critics' Pick.
Beneath the dining room's spherical hanging lights, curries and stir-fried noodles stack with veggies such as baby bok choy and chinese broccoli, as well as seafood, shrimp, and imitation meats. Already boasting one of the city's largest vegetarian menus, chefs can also alter most of their other dishes to accommodate vegans and vegetarians upon request. After finishing off a deep-fried red snapper, patrons can peruse the Thai-language menu, or request a translation into other languages such as German, Latin, and Binary.
Fresh maki sushi rolls and succulently sauced meats burden blond-wood tables within the textured walls of Umi Japanese Restaurant. Soft-shell crab, squid, and other sea-caught starters form an edible prologue to the menu, which diners can peruse while lounging in high-backed booths or playing hide-and-seek amid the artfully arranged birch branches in wall-mounted planters. Besides Umi’s sushi selection, traditional Japanese sauces coat teriyaki-style seafood and meats, and hot-pot-style dishes brim with udon noodles, meats, and vegetables.
Jess Café presents a massive menu of pan-Asian dishes, from Vietnamese fried egg rolls to Thai green curry to Korean short ribs served over a bed of rice. The rice, noodle, and seafood dishes can be packaged and delivered to doors or enjoyed inside the cozy eatery, where a large beach mural helps guide diner’s post-meal dazes.
At Kimberli Sushi, cooks combine crisp vegetables and succulent cuts of fish to fashion dishes from a sprawling Japanese and Thai menu. Crystal-clear plates support noodle dishes and cuts of sashimi that pop with color as diners sit at a modest sushi bar illuminated by hanging lamps and floating balls of roe.