By Mai Pham
As a college student at UCLA, Thai food was easy to come by. Aside from pizza, it was one of the easiest foods to get delivered, and I didn't realize at the time how spoiled I'd become by its easy availability until I moved to Houston.
While we definitely have excellent choices for ethnic food, I'm just going to say it: Our Thai food presence is pretty weak. Just a handful of places come to mind when I want true, authentic Thai eats -- Vieng Thai on Longpoint, Asia Market on Cavalcade, Thai Gourmet on Richmond and Tony Thai on Bellaire -- and while these are all places where I can get my Thai fix, it's a destination thing for me. I have to make it a point to go there instead of just dropping by. Perhaps this explains my almost overwhelming excitement when I heard about the opening of chef Junnajet Hurapan's Songkran Thai Kitchen in Uptown Park.
Hurapan, whom I profiled when he opened Blu in Sugar Land (read my chef chat with him, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), has been hankering to do Thai food. A Thai guy through and through, he knows the flavors of his homeland like the back of his hand. But until now, he hasn't been able to do anything that's exclusively Thai. During his stint at Gigi's Dumpling House in the Galleria, he was doing Cantonese food. At Blu in Sugar Land, the menu was billed as "Euro Asian," which spanned other genres like Indian and Chinese. Songkran, which he is opening in partnership with the owners at Blu, is going to be his Thai baby.
The spruced up new space, which took over the former Tapas 1252 space in between Etoile Cuisine and Cafe Express in Uptown Park, is sultry and exotic, with striking, hand painted wall murals by a local artist. To the right of the entryway, just as you walk in, a benevolent Songkran Angel greets you. On the far back wall, a large Buddha image provides the backdrop for the entire restaurant, which is anchored by the a long, attractive bar space -- the perfect spot for a drink and snack if you're a solo diner. The location is convenient and also boasts one of the best patios in the city.
The menu reads like an ode to my deepest Thai cravings, with all the names of the Thai dishes, next to descriptions of what they are. My favorites were all there, dishes like likePad Thai, Tom Yum Goong (a spicy sweet and sour lemongrass soup with shrimp), Gai Yang (Thai bbq chicken), and Pad-ped Pla (Bangkok fish filet with rhizome and lime). Hoy Tod (Crispy mussel pancake with bean sprouts and sriracha) is a dish I haven't seen or tasted since I tasted it on the streets of Bangkok approximately 10 years ago.
Asked which were his favorite dishes, chef Jett (short for Junnajet) says it was hard to choose, but here's what he likes the most: Khai Luk Koei (double cooked egg with tamarind sauce and crispy shallots); Yum Ka Moy (Royal chili lime chicken salad); and Nuer Siam(braised wagyu beef with Thai herb dipping sauce).
For someone who loves food, and who counts Thai food among her favorites, he didn't have to say anymore. I'm drooling just thinking about it.
Songkran Thai Kitchen opened to the public on Monday April 28, serving lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.