At the original Siam Thai Restaurant in South Bend, the eatery’s yellow walls are speckled with round mirrors in assorted sizes, each reflecting classic Thai dishes such as massaman curry with peanuts, potatoes, onions, and chicken. The recently opened Siam Fresh Asian Cuisine in Granger builds on owner Nat Buraprateep's Thai-cuisine expertise and focuses on Asian-fusion fare. Beneath bamboo light fixtures made by Buraprateep himself, diners sample vegetable pad thai, toasted-sesame ahi tuna steaks, and blackened-shrimp tacos topped with wasabi aioli, jalapeños, and mango salsa.
The chefs at Khun Daeng Thai Kitchen serve up classic curries, tasty noodle dishes, lemongrass-spiked soups, tropical salads, and shareable appetizers. Adventurous diners can sample inventive selections, such as The Evil Prince of a Wild Jungle or Twist and Shout Seafood, washing them down with thai iced tea, thai iced coffee, or a soft drink.
The terms “coward” and “brave” are neither insults nor compliments at Bangkok Place Thai Restaurant; rather, they signify the level of spiciness a customer can handle. Chef Keo Phannavong and his wife Ann helm the casual eatery, where Keo brings 20 years of experience—and a slew of his mother’s recipes—to the kitchen. Using fresh ingredients, such as basil leaves, lemon grass, coconut milk, and chili, the master chef concocts a wide range of authentic Thai dishes that pack as little or as much spice as the patron desires or can trick his date into eating. The restaurant offers familiar Thai favorites, such as pad thai and tom yum soup, as well as some more obscure entrees, such as pla jien—a steamed fish topped with ginger and baby corn.
Though its name suggests a rather limited menu, Asparagus happily defies expectations with a range of Thai and Vietnamese dishes that pair various ingredients and flavors with its eponymous vegetable. Stalks of asparagus may arrive alongside a roasted Cornish game hen, stir-fried with tofu and baby bokchoy in a Thai chili paste, or mixed with sautéed shrimp and scallops in a ginger-soy glaze. If asparagus isn’t your thing, try the grilled rib-eye with house mustard sauce or the French-inspired lamb shanks braised with a reduced cabernet sauce. The restaurant’s chefs are known for their artistic arrangements, which certainly feel at home in a dining room decorated with cross-cut bamboo and artworks acquired by the owners on trips to Asia. A baby grand piano sits in the lounge, which comes to life every Saturday night as musicians hammer away at keys or drum with raw stalks of asparagus.
Noodle Bowl’s menu hosts a jamboree of authentic Asian platters hailing from numerous Eastern flavor sites. Fresh spring rolls clasp fresh vegetables and thin rice noodles or meat in a steamed rice-paper bear hug ($3.50–$4.50). Noodle bowls harbor a menagerie of species in savory broths, such as hearty soba wheat noodles buttressed by miniature armadas of beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp ($8.75–$10.95), which navigate their way through a sea of veggie icebergs and pasta serpents. Retire the careers of meat, zucchini, mushrooms, and onions with steamy hibachi dishes, which arrive atop plates bedecked in soy sauce and seasoning after a searing tango on a flat-top grill ($12.95–$16.95).
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.