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Simple. Delicious. Affordable. These three words best describe Bangkok Chef, “where Thai food is simply delicious.”
“That’s our motto,” says owner Patrick Chang. “We try to make our food as simple as we can. When you go to other restaurants, they try to make it sophisticated with garnishes and everything else. But ours is just a simple dish — green curry is just green curry, pad thai is just pad thai — without adding anything extra.”
This commitment to quality of ingredients, taste and service has served the local restaurant well, helping Bangkok Chef grow from a small produce store in Nuuanu to a popular plate lunch-style eatery with three locations islandwide.
“Many people don’t know we started as a produce market,” Chang confesses.
In September 2001, Chang and wife Sansane Pornchairattanakun began selling fresh, local produce in what was known as Nuuanu Open Market. By the following year, the couple had begun offering homecooked Thai food to shoppers, calling their tiny operation Bangkok Chef.
“My wife’s family has a restaurant in Bangkok, so that’s what Bangkok Chef refers to,” Chang explains. “Gradually we changed the whole operation to a restaurant. Nuuanu is the original one, and two years ago we opened one in Manoa.”
When space became available in the developing warehouse building at 900 N. Nimitz Hwy., Chang saw the perfect opportunity to expand business even further.
“This area is starting to build up, and there’s a lot of people here, either driving along the highway or working in town or at the harbor,” he says. “I think there is a need for Bangkok Chef here, and whenever there’s a need, we go there.”
Bangkok Chef’s third location opened just last month, bringing with it the same menu of simple, delicious, affordable Thai food that has won high praise and a long list of fans over these past nine years.
“A lot of people know our name already, so even before we opened (on Nimitz), people were waiting for us!” Chang laughs.
“Our menu is not as extensive as other Thai restaurants, where they have hundreds of items,” he adds. “We concentrate on only 30-something items, but everything on the menu sells. You know, sometimes you go to other restaurants and things on the menu just sit there and they’re not selling at all. It’s too much. That’s why we say, keep it simple, and everything on the menu has to go.”
Among the items constantly flying out of the kitchen are Mango Salad ($7.80/$8.30), a spicy and flavorful mix of shredded mango, carrot, shallot, Chinese parsley, chili peppers and cashews topped with a house special sauce; Tom Yum Goong ($8.50/$9), a spicy-sour soup made with shrimp, mushroom and tomato and flavored with a lemon-grass and kaffir lime leaf; and Pad Thai ($6.25/$7.25), a fried rice-noodle dish served with egg, chicken, tofu, bean sprouts and chives in a house pad thai sauce.
Another favorite are the Spring Rolls ($6.50/$7), which are perfectly crispy, not oily, and filled with a smattering of vegetables including bean threads, carrot, black fungus, onions and taro as well as ground chicken. A vegetarian option also is available for the same price. In fact, tofu may be substituted for meat at no cost for any dish, including Bangkok Chef’s newest dish, Naam Toak Moo ($8.50), a grilled pork loin prepared with onions, mint leaves and spice in a special lemon sauce.
“We use fresh ingredients,” says Chang of the explosively popular dishes, “but I think it’s also in the way we present it. When people think of Thai food, it’s kind of a more expensive kind of food. Ours is a plate-lunch style.”
And just like any good plate lunch, all items may be enjoyed either in-house or to go.
“Take-out is still a big part of the business,” Chang says. “(Take-out) is quicker, faster, easier to manage. I think it’s more convenient for most people. Before they go home from work, stop by and pick up some food and enjoy with the family, and we have a lot of people like that.”
But he does suggest customers take time to savor a bite in the new Nimitz’s dining room, with its high ceilings, exposed brick walls and rustic chairs and benches that reflect the areas industrial history.
“The owner of the building helped design (the interior),” Chang says. “This place is newer, and it has a larger dining capacity in a nice atmosphere. I like it.”
It seems the customers like it too, because business is bustling at all three Bangkok Chef locations, which begs the simple questions: Are there plans for additional restaurants in the future?
“We’ve been getting a lot of suggestions from as far as Kapolei, Mililani, Kailua, Kaneohe, Hawaii Kai, all over,” Chang says with a smile. “We gotta catch up! But for now we stay here, take it one at a time.”
- 900 North Nimitz Highway
- Honolulu, HI 96817
- 2955 E. Manoa Road
- Honolulu, HI 96822
- 1627 Nuuanu Avenue
- Honolulu, HI 96817
- (808) 536-8570 (Nimitz)
- (808) 988-0212 (Manoa)
- (808) 585-8839 (Nuuanu)
- 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
- Monday – Saturday
- 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.