Even though NE 23rd Street is one of the most historical streets in Oklahoma City, many locals tend to forget that it’s also home to some of the most grassroots and homegrown eateries in town, the best having a specific focus on soul food, barbecue and old-fashioned Southern cooking. NE 23rd Street restaurants are OKC’s culinary history all in a few blocks and really should be revered as such.
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Thai Thai Asian Bistro boasts a duo of chefs who have been preparing the food of their native Thailand together for a long time. Daughter Koi Strickland and her mother, Samer Charoenpibool, are the core culinary team at this new restaurant that’s already developed a large loyal following.
“I started cooking when I was 7. My family lived in Kanchanaburi. You might know that town because it’s where the bridge on the Kwai River is,” Koi said. “We have a lot of coconut trees where I lived. My mom taught me to use coconut milk making fried rice, first, and then all the curry dishes.”
Thai Thai uses recipes passed down from Charoenpibool’s mother. The family’s history on the same immense rice paddy fields goes back more than 200 years. They raised chickens, and Koi’s father and brothers caught fish in the river using bamboo box traps. The rural tradition of using only the freshest ingredients is continued at Thai Thai.
“We spend a lot of time picking out our fresh vegetables and basil every day,” Koi said. “If they aren’t good, we don’t use them, because we care about the food.”
She considers papaya salad, pictured, ($7.99) to be the dish on their menu most representative of authentic Thai cuisine. Finding the fruit at just the right stage can be a challenge.
“Sometimes the papaya is just too ripe,” Koi said, noting she often hits all the Asian markets in Oklahoma City to find the right ones.
Thai Thai’s selections cast a wide net across the Siamese culinary spectrum. Kao soi ($8.99) is a Northern-prefecture egg-noodle dish in a spicy, yellow curry sauce. Squeezing lime wedges over the bell peppers, bamboo shoots, pickled cabbage, bean sprouts and your choice of beef, chicken, pork or tofu makes it a happy festival in your mouth.
From southern Thailand, they’ve brought Massaman curry ($9.50), a coconut-milk stew flavored with lime leaves, cardamom, cinnamon and star anise. It had big chunks of potato, carrot and peanuts swimming in the delicious broth.
Fresh rolls ($5.99) are almost too pretty to eat. Almost. You can see the colorful red cabbage, carrot and lettuce leaf through translucent rice paper. It’s a salad in a roll, served with sides of chili and house-made peanut sauces.
Vegans should be delighted to learn that all of the many dishes on the menu have a meat-free version.
restaurants in America always have pad Thai ($8.99), and it’s the most
popular item among customers here. Thai Thai’s sauce is a wicked-good
blend of tamarind paste, mild fermented anchovy sauce, brown sugar and
Famous for their flame-thrower curry plates, Thai Thai’s orders use a one-to-five scale of mouth tingle.Many dishes are indicated on the menu with two little peppers, meaning they start out at level 2. I ordered pad kee mao ($8.99), a flat-noodle entree at the No. 5, all-hands-on-deck, “the place is burning down” level, but it didn’t taste any hotter than the level 2 choices. Next time, I’ll make sure they understand I mean Thai-hot, because I’m certain that’s no problem.
Charoenpibool speaks very little English, but I was charmed when she came from the kitchen and said, “I love you.” The family uses the phrase as a generic greeting. She may not really have a crush on all her customers, but you wouldn’t know it from her cooking.
Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive
aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or
service when appropriate.
Photos by Mark Hancock