Nearby Thai

By Emily Ornberg

Chef Andy Aroonrasameruang has his hands Thai’d at his own Lakeview restaurant.

The chef was previously a partner of TAC Quick, 3930 N. Sheridan Road, a restaurant known for its beautifully prepared servings of any Thai food imaginable. With the help of his friends in the Thai LGBT community, he and his partner transformed TAC from a quaint BYOB with six tables to a spacious restaurant spanning two storefronts and a sidewalk patio under the Sheridan Red Line stop.

Following a bitter split from TAC—Aroonrasameruang won’t even speak his former partner’s name—he opened Andy’s Thai Kitchen, 946 W. Wellington Ave., on Sept. 9. Located under the Brown Line, the location formerly housed the sushi and noodles joint Fresh, whose owner is now partnered with Aroonrasameruang.

Aroonrasameruang presents his challenging and aggressive flavors in a unified and affordable menu, unlike his previous endeavor, which offered two menus: one for the timid and another for Thai experts. Using fresh ingredients prepared in his daring signature style, Aroonrasameruang can transform any skeptic into a fanatic.

Given its charming upscale bistro atmosphere, it’s hard to fathom its average entree price of $9 and the nonexistent wait time. Bamboo plants in tall vases, a large daisy chandelier, pink flowers on the tables and soft candlelight make for a relaxing and romantic atmosphere. The unexpected easy-listening island grooves add an exotic element, even if a few songs contained Spanish lyrics.

Some of Aroonrasameruang’s TAC Quick’s dishes have made their way onto ATK’s menu, such as the tempura-battered and deep-fried Ong Choy, which consists of Chinese water spinach served with shrimp and minced chicken, and crispy pork pad Prik Khing, shreds of pork belly stir-fried with long beans and raw jalapeños soaked in red curry.

Thai chefs seek to balance the four most prominent flavors: sour, sweet, salty and bitter. Thai cuisine focuses on key ingredients that include lemongrass, coriander, fish sauce, basil and curry. ATK’s dishes achieve this balance perfectly, imbuing each dish with a salty or sweet component and additional flavors of dried pepper, spices or stir-fried fruit.

The aptly-named “Cashew dish” ($8.95) of mixed stir-fried peapods, pineapple, dried pepper, carrot, onion, water chestnut and mushrooms topped with cashews would have been a knockout had it been served warmer than room temperature. The Pad See Ew ($7.95) stir-fried wide rice noodles with Chinese broccoli, egg and sweet soy sauce—had an intensely bitter flavor that verged on being too salty, but paired wonderfully with crispy broccoli and tofu.

Aroonrasameruang’s sweet roti ($3) is an after-dinner must. Its flavor invokes nostalgia for a funnel cake from Navy Pier—crisp but still slick with butter, loaded with sweetened condensed milk and topped with Aroonrasameruang’s handmade whipped cream and dots of strawberry compote.

In a city that has grown accustomed to sub-par Thai cuisine, Andy’s Thai Kitchen brings a fresh twist to traditional plates. ATK is a great and affordable addition to the many Lakeview Thai spots, and it deserves a visit (or 10).