When Gene Kobboon arrived in the United States in 1985, he initially sought a career as a commercial artist and took odd jobs in kitchens around Austin to help pay his way through school. He quickly realized he loved his work more than his classes, and switched his focus to becoming a chef. He then opened Thai Passion, combining his love of cooking with his artistic eye.
From his artfully plated Thai dishes to his handmade carvings that deck the walls, Mr. Kobboon's ample artistic talent flourishes throughout the restaurant. Each morning, he arrives at the restaurant with a bundle of fresh orchids and adorns each table with one of the delicate blooms. Golden lighting keeps the restaurant as warm and inviting as its cuisine's spicy aromas, which waft from the kitchen until 3 a.m. catering to late-night partiers and those trying to stay awake late enough to tuck in the moon.
Even those who haven?t been to SATAY Restaurant in the more than 25 years it?s been in business might recognize the name of owner Foo Swasdee. That?s because the celebrated restaurateur?s flavorful sauces and spices have become so popular that she now sells them to retailers nationwide. Guests at her Austin eatery can taste these signature creations fresh from the kitchen, where they?re used in Thai and South Asian dishes such as Thai Duck Curry, Tiger Cry, and grilled flank steak with hot peppers and a fish sauce with lime vinaigrette. Swasdee further enhances cuisine with organic herbs from her own garden.
A mouthwatering aroma wafts from Thai Cuisine?s kitchen as chefs douse veggies, pineapple slices, and catfish nuggets in creamy curries. Fresh from the stove, oyster sauce glazes stir-fried beef, mushrooms, and broccoli. Colorful d?cor complements the menu?s bold flavors: Waiters shepherd brigades of noodle and rice dishes to tables swathed in blue, pink, and yellow, or to buffet tables set against crimson walls. TVs and wide windows occupy eyes during meals, and free Wi-Fi helps mobile devices distract hands from sculpting wrist pillows out of soft tofu.
Banh mi is the quintessential Vietnamese handheld: layers of meat, crispy cucumbers, jalape?os, Vietnamese mayo, and shredded pickled carrots tucked into a sliced baguette with just a sprinkling of cilantro. This sandwich is one of the specialties at Mekong River Restaurant, where the chefs craft a menu full of authentic Vietnamese and Thai flavors. They toss bean sprouts and peanuts into bowls heaping with pad thai noodles, and stir-fry chicken with Thai chilis, jalape?os, and basil. Vietnamese soups combine noodles and bites of brisket, tripe, and shrimp. Even the desserts offer diners the flavors of Asia, with bowls of fried bananas, sticky rice, and Thai custard.
The sustainable Thai cooking classes at Thai Fresh have an edge on any cooking course looking to compete: their instructor is co-owner Jam Sanitchat, who developed her skill set over countless hours spent in her grandmother’s kitchen in Thailand. The fully stocked market not only hosts classes where students learn how to cook, but supplies them with the ingredients they need to make their own Thai meals. The deli area serves up inspiration with an extensive menu featuring classic Thai dishes and samples of dishes currently being taught in Sanitchat’s classes. Sanitchat brings an extra kick to her authentic recipes with local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients such as free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and rice noodles shaped by local document shredders.
Thrice, the neighboring café, serves fresh-baked pastries and sandwiches made onsite daily. A schedule of singers and folk artists entertains diners as they sip coffee, wine, or give themselves suds mustaches with local beers on tap.