The chefs at Dozika fuse Asian flavors from multiple regions, including Japan, Thailand, and Korea. Spider maki roll combines soft-shell crab and masago together with avocado, cucumber, and unagi sauce, and sashimi and vegetarian rolls provide colorful additions to boards of sushi. Noodle, curry, and fried rice dishes abound for diners looking to sample something new or finally learn how to spell “umami.”
Waiters adorn tables with steaming plates of familiar Thai fare in Montira Thai Restaurant’s sunny brick eatery. Tamarind or peanut sauce dominates stir-fried rice or egg noodles, whereas spices such as basil and lemongrass steep in coconut curries to balance their colorful chili powder blends. The cooks take a particular interest in seafood, frying up salmon, catfish, tilapia, and soft-shell crab, and dressing prawns in a special kind of homemade red curry. Drinks such as Thai iced tea and coffee accompany weekday lunch specials to quell taste bud fires set to keep those at lunch meetings alert.
Chefs imbue Zakuro Thai Sushi Cuisine's intimate dining room with the aromas of traditional Thai noodle dishes, fried rice, and seven types of curry. For dinner, they craft specialties such as deep-fried soft-shell crab with basil sauce, served with vegetables and a choice of white, brown, or fried rice. At the sushi counter, chefs hand-roll maki including the Hollywood, layering spicy tuna and shrimp tempura inside kelp or soybean paper and topping the bundle with fried onions and seared Cajun albacore. The softly lit restaurant boasts wood floors, Asian figurines, and tall, twig-like accents that are lit from beneath, casting spindly shapes on the walls like two saplings making shadow puppets.
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.
At Guys & Wok, cooks simmer up the sweet and spicy flavors of Thailand to make classic noodle and rice dishes. Perched at the heart of Boystown, the restaurant asserts its presence with a neon teal sign and floor-to-ceiling windows stamped with a giant ampersand. Upon entering, an analog chalkboard competes with digital flat-screen TVs to relay menu options such as mango spring rolls and red, green, yellow, and panang curries. Restaurant specialties, such as the Sunset squid with chili-lime-garlic dipping sauce accompany refreshments including traditional Thai drinks and certified-organic loose teas. Facing Halsted Street, stools sidle up to countertops, offering views of the bustling street and its boisterous bar crowds. As a WiFi-equipped eatery, the restaurant invites patrons to settle in at tables, enjoy their fares, and google their second-grade teachers.