Meals at Thipi Thai are all about indulging the senses. Its assortment of classic Thai comfort foods deftly balance sour, sweet, and salty flavors, while intensely aromatic ingredients such as curry paste and basil tickle noses. After warming starters such as traditional tom kha kai soup, diners move onto entrees of fried rice tossed with shrimp and calamari, or duck in red curry sauce. These dishes can run the gamut from mild to intensely spiced, but guests always have final say as to how much heat their taste buds can handle.
The restaurant's sensory atmosphere extends beyond the menu. Take the eye-catching dining room, for instance?its crimson walls are adorned with gilt-framed artwork, while saffron archways frame the umbrellas that dangle upside-down from the ceiling like chandeliers.
Chi Tung began as a small Chinese restaurant in 1988, but has since evolved into a 200-seat pan-Asian kingdom that houses a hibachi steak house as well as a lounge area. In the midst of several growth spurts, owners Jinny and Dan Zhao have trained their focus on upholding high culinary standards. They parceled their cooking team into three separate kitchens, each one dedicated to producing authentic Chinese, Thai, or Japanese food. In these highly specialized quarters, cooks prepare hundreds of menu items, such as mongolian beef, shrimp pad thai, and chicken satay. Although the cooks work at a steady clip, they adhere to traditional recipes and techniques when blending custom sauces and handcrafting more than 100 types of sushi.
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.
For years, the non-Thai residents of Chicago could only look wistfully upon TAC Quick's special Thai-language menu, wondering what exotic Thai dishes the intricate foreign characters could be describing. But after a devotee translated chef Andy Aroonrasameruang's menu and posted it online, diners could suddenly order non-Americanized Thai specialties that had been previously been unheard of in Chicago—like ground chicken with preserved eggs and fish maw salad. After leaving his chef position at TAC Quick to open an eatery of his own, Andy drew up a menu that lists his authentic Thai specialties in both languages. When discussing the bilingual menu with reporters from Time Out Chicago, Andy explained, "It’s all one menu now, with both Thai and English language. This is Andy. No more secrets.” Inside the dining room at Andy's Thai Kitchen, diners raise glasses of BYOB wine over plates of raw blue crab salad and savory boat noodles. Others dunk plump crab rangoon into Andy's signature shrimp paste dip, which was described by reporters from the Chicago Tribune as "one notch spicier and two notches more funktastic than your neighborhood crab rangoon purveyor." Candles flicker on tabletops, illuminating diners' faces as they gaze out the lofty windows and ponder why clouds insist on taking the shape of their overbearing mother.
Lauded by interior designer Nate Berkus on Check, Please!, Tiparos Thai Cuisine & Sushi Bar is home to a menu of Thai noodle dishes, sushi, and pan-Asian favorites served in a cozy space. Sushi chefs prepare maki mono rolls, nigiri, and sashimi behind the long bar illuminated by a line of colorful and partially edible orb lamps. Chefs can convert many entrees into vegetarian dishes and adjust the spice level of each curry, meat, or noodle dish to please both prim and reckless tongues. Tapestries imported from Thailand brighten the eatery's exposed-brick walls, while patterned paintings grid white walls beside potted flora.
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.