PHOTOS: Matt D'Annunzio
Aside from Pok Pok, locals take Thai cuisine for granted as a takeout, comfort-food standby. But in May, Chef Aut "Dang" Boonyakamol's Red Onion forced us to sit down and take notice. The new restaurant, from the former chef-owner of Chaba Thai and Dang's Thai Kitchen, is a direct flight to Northern Thailand hunkered down across the street from the emergency entrance to Legacy Good Sam Hospital. The stylish lime-and-brick-colored dining room serves a long list of off-kilter favorites, from soupy, shallot-y khao soi curry to salad rolls packed with sweet Chinese sausage and topped with Dungeness crab—all served in sharable portions. But it's what Chiang Mai native Dang didn't put on the menu that garnered him a following of Thai expats over the past decade; until recently, regulars would call him to special order deep-fried squid tubes stuffed with cilantro-laced ground pork and shrimp or homey nam prik oang, a tomato and minced pork dish that's the Thai equivalent of spicy spaghetti sauce. He'd make his own lemongrass-and-kaffir lime Chiang Mai sausage by hand, top mounds of puckery shredded green mango with crisp-skinned rainbow trout and doctor up chile pastes with special Asian cumin seeds only found at Lily Market. Then, earlier this summer, Kenny Zuke's Nick Zukin convinced Dang that Americans were ready to broaden their borders. The new specials menu's been a hit (although it still bears the legend "No refuse, no return" at the bottom). Chef Dang, 51, has been cooking since he was a kid—forced to grind chile paste for his mom in the kitchen instead of going outside to play, he says with a grin. The love and care he still takes in making this complex, deftly spiced fare is evident—it tastes just like home ought to.
- Order This: Gai hor bai toey, little deep-fried party favors of moist chicken wrapped in padunus leaf with brown-sugar fish-sauce dip; green mango and rainbow trout salad.
- Best Deal: A basin of yen ta fo squid and noodle soup, tom yum noodles or mountain of stir-fried green curry beef—you will waddle out with a to-go box full of leftovers.
- I’ll Pass: Skip dessert unless the mango (with sticky rice) is in season.