The real thing: In-On Thai in East Lakeview

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A lot of Thai restaurants in the region say they're "authentic," but that rarely seems to be the case. However, a small, family-run Thai joint in East Lakeview lives up to those claims of authenticity.

Like the greatest Thai restaurants back home, there's only one person in the kitchen: someone's mother.

Like an investigator, or an anthropologist, you just need to know where to look. When a Thai restaurant says it's "authentic," look for a spoon and fork on the table (there are no chopsticks in Thailand); make sure they're making all of the curry pastes from scratch (not opening a can), and the food should have that unique balance of sweet, salty, sour and spicy, not to mention layers of texture.

All of these elements are in place at In-On Thai in East Lakeview, where the owner's mother-in-law, a veteran of several restaurants back in Thailand, rules the kitchen.

"Because she convinced me to open this place because of her experience and because of her recipes and also I trust her," said co-owner Atichat Srisawangpan.

When you see how she handles a mortar and pestle, rhythmically pounding a som tom salad of green papaya, dried shrimp, fresh chilies, garlic, salty fish sauce and tart lime juice, you know you're in good hands. Her pad thai contains tamarind, not the usual ketchup or tomato sauce you find at lesser operations, and the mounds of dried chili and peanut let you customize this ubiquitous noodle dish. Her finely-chopped green bean salad is a Thai love letter: ground pork and plump shrimp are bathed in lime juice with fiery chiles and wedges of hard-boiled eggs.

Fiery, homemade curry pastes are pounded each day from lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and about a dozen other ingredients, then dissolved into rich coconut milk and cooked with chicken, beef or shrimp, along with crunchy Thai eggplants for a dish that's synonymous with Thailand. Clearly, she's cooking for her fellow countrymen as much as she cooks for novices.

"In the menu we have English and subtitles in Thai because we present the authentic Thai; that means we can serve either to American and Thai people the same way," said Srisawangpan.

So while a lot of Thai restaurants claim that "authentic" label, In-On clearly delivers in every aspect.

Just remember that when servers ask how spicy you like things; "Thai spice" usually means extra hot.

In-On Thai
3821 N. Broadway
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