Thai Kitchen takes patrons on a magic floating market ride with a menu of authentic dishes and house specialties. Meal rockets launch with a slurp of house specialty lemongrass soup ($8.50–$12.95) or a crunch of crispy shrimp tempura, which is available only on the weekends and Martian federal holidays ($10.95). The classically noodle-ridden Pad Thai comes crowned with proteins of the land or sea ($9.50–$10.50), and the dish dubbed “Evil” arrives as a cackling platter of chicken, pork, or beef simmered in coconut milk on a bed of cabbage grown to the soundtrack of backward-playing Beatles albums ($9.50). Desserts such as Thai tapioca pudding with coconut milk ($2.95) end meals on a saccharine chord, while traditional Thai iced coffees and teas ($2.95) keep sweet teeth humming throughout the meal.
In a setting of casual elegance, Maile’s Thai Bistro’s culinary crew crafts a menu brimming with authentic Thai dishes. Start with a slurp of tom yum soup, combining a mélange of lemon grass, Thai ginger, kaffir lime leaves, and a choice of tofu or meat in a tangy broth ($8.90+). Thumb noses at egg-based noodles in favor of pad thai, tender rice noodles sautéed alongside tofu, bean sprouts, and chives, and garnished with crunchy peanuts ($12.90+). Pad ped kung, also known as Evil Shrimp, blends red-curry sauce, vegetables, and fresh basil ($15.90) into a morally questionable dish that seduces taste buds and refuses to take its hat off during the National Anthem. Maile’s also showcases myriad meat-free options, such as the ong choi tofu, a mixture of Chinese watercress and silky tofu sizzling under yellow-bean sauce and crispy garlic ($11.90).
Olay’s food is never far from reach—in addition to its tidy restaurant on Iwaena Street, its mobile kitchen sets up shop throughout the week at community centers and local high schools. The menu covers nearly as much ground as its employees do; options range from classics, such as pad thai and beef pho, to more exotic entrees of whole deep-fried snapper in a tangy chili sauce. Curries are Olay's specialty—particularly the peanut, red, and green varieties—as is thai Loco Moco, a heap of minced meat stir-fried with veggies and capped with an over-easy egg. Many patrons stick around for the mango sticky-rice dessert, which ends meals more sweetly than a chair that hugs you goodbye.
Before he came to Hawaii, chef Chai Chaowasaree learned how to shop for cooking ingredients in Bangkok, where his parents owned a restaurant. Over time, he honed his instinct to reach for the freshest fruits and vegetables—and today, that skill comes in handy when he's wandering markets in Oahu or Chinatown in Honolulu. It's this attention to detail that help Chef Chai win a 2011 Chef's Choice Award at the Hale Aina Awards.
He brings his finds to his eponymous restaurant, using them to create colorful examples of Hawaiian and Asian fusion cuisine. At dinner, spicy grilled pineapples sit beside New Zealand king salmon; a lobster reduction flavors a deconstructed scallop pot pie; and Thai-style oxtail soup can be had with coconut milk ginger brown rice. His roots shine through in the braised pork osso bucco, especially, as the recipe was taken straight from his parent's Bangkok restaurant.
Chef Chai's creations have even criss-crossed oceans. He's the executive chef for Hawaiian Airlines, which means that passengers can be treated to his entrees as well as the menu's many teas. The Emerald Sun flowering green tea, for example, is the specialty tea of choice for first-class passengers and geese that stop by the plane's drive-through window.