After a fire gutted Bangkok Pavilion Restaurant in 2005, the eatery rose like a phoenix as the owners rebuilt it from the ground up. Bright-blue seating now adds color to the new dining room, but the food hasn’t changed in the kitchen, where chefs infuse spicy, sour, sweet, salty, and savory flavors into their Thai dishes. They drape chicken in a blanket of thai peanut sauce, submerge bits of beef in sweet coconut-milk curry, and sauté jumbo shrimp in a spicy red sauce. During lunch hours, guests can sample tom yum soup, crispy spring rolls, and red-curry chicken–a buffet lineup that earned the eatery a “Best Lunch Buffet” callout from The Pitch in 2007.
Although Penny has been perfecting her traditional Thai recipes for over 20 years, it wasn't until 2013 that she began sharing them with others. For this was the year she took over as owner of Thai House, where she was previously a cook. Penny specializes in seafood dishes, whether sautéing scallops in a spicy siracha sauce or using a catapult to toss pad thai with squid, crab, and shrimp. She's also known for her sauces, coating roast duck in tamarind and drizzling other meats with massaman curry.
Even as they sliced fish ceviche and sizzled taquitos at La Parrilla, their popular Mexican restaurant, Alejandro Lule and Subarna Bhattachan often dreamed of opening a noodle house. Subarna longed for the plump momo dumplings and egg-noodle soups of his native Nepal, whereas Alejandro craved the Thai curries and Vietnamese pho he remembered from his years working in San Francisco. Combining their extensive culinary experience and shared ambition, the duo spearheaded Zen Zero, setting up shop directly across the street from La Parrilla.
Deep within Zen Zero’s kitchen, chefs fold fresh ingredients and spices into critically acclaimed dishes from countries across Asia and the Pacific Rim—from Thailand to Nepal and China. Their seafood, meat, and vegetable curries simmer, and pots of thai glass noodles, japanese udon, and vietnamese vermicelli bubble on stovetops. When discussing their cooking techniques with reporters from the Lawrence Journal-World, Subarna reported, “we use a lot of spice seeds: cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, cardamom pods.” These seeds add a distinctive concentrated flavor to their dishes, which servers carry with glasses of specialty cocktails and chilled sake through the dining room. Around them blown-glass lamps, wooden tables, and an absence of giant foam shrimp costumes create an elegant atmosphere.
Next to the cash register at Mai Thai, a small white saucer next to a statuette holds crackers or other offerings made every morning to signify wealth and good luck. The diminutive goddess and happy Buddha statues subtly hint at the eatery’s roots beneath pendant lights and a tile mosaic. Servers glide across the wooden floors, toting dishes including pad thai and panang, which further solidify the connection to Thailand. Chefs draw from adventurous ingredients when crafting sweets, which Kansas City Star reporter Jill Wendholdt Silva expounded on in a recent review, saying, “Another dessert that I'm not likely to soon forget is the taro ice cream made from a tuberous potatolike vegetable with a purplish tinge. The color is both beautiful and odd, but the taste is reminiscent of pistachios and coconut. The ice cream is accompanied by fried bananas.”
Pho 2's chefs send taste buds on a tour of Southeast Asia charted by a menu of family recipes hailing from Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Diners can start meals by sharing fresh spring rolls, ladling cups of spicy tom yum soup, or conducting blindfolded taste tests with papaya salad prepared either Thai-style or Laos-style. A rainbow of red, green, and yellow curries decorates tables alongside noodle dishes such as pad thai. Vietnamese coffee and thai iced tea sweeten palates, and, on weekends, Pho 2's chefs re-create authentic Southeast Asian desserts.
Pho Good relies on family recipes as they introduce Shawnee taste buds to traditional, MSG-free Vietnamese fare. Specialties include banh mi—piquant, French-inspired sandwiches that, like the Eiffel Tower, are made with whole loaves of french bread—and steaming bowls of noodle soup known as pho. Customers sprinkle the noodle- and Angus-beef-filled onion broth with handfuls of cilantro and sprouts, while bubble tea and Vietnamese coffee complement appetizers such as crispy pork spring rolls. The dishes, many spicy on their own or crowned with sriracha, can make patrons break a sweat just as effectively as a good workout or a constant fear of the sun exploding.