Celebrating Thai New Year with authentic cuisine

OAK PARK In Chicago, there are lots of Thai restaurants, but only a handful offering unique, regional dishes.

We've all seen the chicken satay skewers, or bowl of tom yum soup. Even pad Thai noodles have become a universal dish, showing up in all kinds of restaurants. Few Thai chefs take chances and offer unique dishes, often going with the safe, rather than the exciting.

But Oak Park residents know that's not the case at Amarind's, where they've been sampling some of the best Thai food around for years.

Presentation is important to the Thai kitchen, but so is balance. At Amarind's - which is technically in the Galewood neighborhood but resonates with Oak Parkers - the food is exquisite and complex. "I think about how I can take, every possible Thai food in Thailand, come in here, in Amarind, I want to put in here," said Rangsan Sutcharit, Amarind's.

Sutcharit worked for nine years at the four-star Arun's, which obviously influences his menu. Take a simple starter like the Golden Cups: a savory flower-shaped shell made from flour and egg is embedded with bits of shrimp, shitake mushrooms, corn, carrots and sweet peas.

A Thai-style crepe begins with a tumeric-infused batter; it's filled with soft tofu, coconut meat, ground peanuts and turnip; freshly-cooked shrimp is added, as well as some aromatic kaffir lime leaves. The crepe is folded, cooked on both sides, then briefly deep-fried. It's sliced into serviceable wedges, served with a mild chile-cilantro sauce.

Forget pad thai, the Amarind Noodles are a revelation: spinach noodles are cooked with eggs, chicken broth and chili sauce.. plus soy and fish sauces, which add depth and saltiness. Plated with bean sprouts and garlic chives for texture, it's crowned with fresh crab meat, shaming nearly every other noodle dish in town.

One of the other interesting things about dining here at Amarind's and it actually speaks to their authenticity, more than anything, is that when you're seated, you don't get chopsticks, you're given a spoon and a fork, the two main utensils they use in Thailand.

And you'll need them to cut and scoop up the Kaosoy, Northern Thai dish of chicken curry that's topped with crispy noodles, plus shallots, cilantro, green onion and lime. It has all of the elements of a classic Thai dish: sweet, sour, salty and spice.

Saeng Wah red snapper features fried fillets, doused in a gingery sauce jammed with lemongrass, shallot and scallions; the presence of chile peppers, cilantro and lime leaves remind you that it's a purely Thai creation.

"I attention and focus myself to do. I do the best that I can," said Sutcharit.

Some other noteworthy Thai restaurants include Siam's House in Niles, even Ruby of Siam in Skokie. In the city, best bets include Thai Pastry, Spoon and TAC Quick Thai (ask for the translated thai-only menu). For a four-star Thai experience, of course, the only place to go is Arun's in Albany Park.

6822 W. North Ave.

also mentioned:

Siam's House
7742 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles

Ruby of Siam
9420 Skokie Blvd., in the Fashion Square Mall, Skokie

TAC Quick Thai
3930 N. Sheridan Rd.

4608 N. Western Ave.

Thai Pastry
4925 N. Broadway

4156 N. Kedzie
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