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.
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.”
Roaring flames rise and fall inside the kitchen of Wai Wai Thai Place Express. Some might think that a dragon lives there, but it’s just the dramatic cooking methods of Pa Noi and Pa Nut, the restaurant’s culinary team. The pair also makes noodles tumble through the air at this edible circus, where flavors from Thailand coalesce in classic dishes such as pad thai, panang curry, and galanga chicken soup. Guests can witness the performance from nearby booths and tables that sit within view of the kitchen, where cooks chop bell peppers rather than fashioning them into clown noses. The stove’s heat summons the veggies’ crunch for ginger-laced stir-fries, and scallions and garlic unlock the flavors that dwell within the peppers' colorful shells. At a handful of outdoor tables, diners can marinate in fresh air and sunshine as they munch soft spring rolls and crispy pork ribs kissed with garlic and sriracha.
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.
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.