Thai joints predominate the Western Avenue strip between Irving Park and Lawrence, so what makes this one so special?
For starters, the decor - bright orange and yellow walls, shiny wooden floors and tables, soothing white paper lamps - and a clean, bright space does a good job of getting patrons in the door.
On a warm summer Wednesday evening, a family of four dines on the patio, under warm orange umbrellas. Inside, couples, groups of friends and families happily graze on noodles and curries, their pleasant chatter (not music) filling the atmosphere.
Cuisine takes its cues from the northern traditions of Thailand, which means plenty of fresh herbs and spices, and a wallop of menu choices. Dishes range from exotic Northern Thai specialties kow soy (egg noodles with choice of meat in coconut soup), to mussel fritters ($6.50), sole fish in hot and sour soup with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and roasted rice powder.
Forty Thai dishes cover a range of options in the chicken, salmon, red snapper, tiger prawn, fish ball and frog leg categories. In the Over Rice and Fried Rice category, Chinese broccoli (always a good sign at a Thai joint) gets attention: it comes accompanied by salty fish over rice with fried egg ($6.50), or alongside crispy pork over rice with fried egg ($6.50).
Vegetarians need not despair: there's 12 plates designed for omnivores: Chinese broccoli or mock duck in mushroom sauce ($7.25) stand out.
Coconut green curry shrimp ($8.95) and duck curry with lychee ($7.95) depart from the usual green, red, and panang variety, although those are not forgotten.
For dessert, sticky rice with durian or mango ($3.75) epitomizes the Sticky Rice experience: light, fresh, healthy and refreshing. And don't forget sticky.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Marla Seidell