Rare tastes of Bangkok street classics elevate this Thai mom-and-pop to “pseudo-destination” status.
Dollars to duck panang there’s a decent Thai restaurant in your neighborhood, so getting in your car to drive to another one doesn’t make sense, unless the other one is the barely year-old Cha Da Thai. While not ostensibly destination dining – it’s a pretty modest-looking operation – Cha Da is worth seeking out thanks to an adventurous menu that transcends the typical American-Thai litany of satay, tangy noodles and fragrant tom kha soups.
Don’t get me wrong – Cha Da ladles out a mean tom kha ($11.95). But it also boasts some amazing Bangkok-style street food, particularly sweet miang kum (roasted coconut, lime, onion and peanuts wrapped in peppery betel leaves, $8.95), ka nom jeep (Thai-style pork and crab dumplings, $8.95) and tod mun (deep-fried fish cakes flavored with red curry paste and kaffir lime, $8.95). You can find this stuff on practically any street corner in the old country, but in Phoenix, it’s harder to find than a cool day in August.
Owner Bussara “Nina” Irwin – a former journalist in Thailand – and her mother run things in the kitchen, leisurely cranking out home-style recipes, several of which are holdovers from the family’s previous Bangkok-based restaurant. The boxy room is colorful but basic. Glass tops cover fringed tablecloths and red silk slipcovers dress up banquet chairs, and an impressive collection of golden headdresses hangs on the wall. Worn in traditional Thai dances performed for royalty, the ornate headwear, called “chada,” lends the restaurant its name.
Almost as impressive as the chada: Thai boat noodle soups ($10-$13.95). Think of them as raucous cousins of Vietnamese pho, with your choice of thin or wide rice noodles, or Chinese egg noodles. Other winning dishes include whiskey-kissed, flaming Volcano BBQ chicken perfumed with lemongrass, garlic and cilantro ($14.95), and the homey clay pot of poo goong ob woon sen ($14.95), a steaming heap of cellophane noodles bathed in an umami-rich, garlicky sauce studded with shiitakes, cabbage and plump shrimp, crowned with pristine white crab meat. If you come at lunch, don’t be fooled by the short, standard combo menu ($7.95-$11.95) – although stir-fried eggplant with garlic and basil is a good choice. What makes Cha Da Thai worth the drive – if you live in Scottsdale, consider yourself lucky – is the multi-page dinner menu, which you can order from at lunch.
Like most Thai restaurants, Cha Da offers traditional larb – minced chicken, pork or beef salad spiced with lime, mint and ground chilies – but far more interesting is the vegetarian mushroom larb ($9.95), a zesty mix of shiitake and beech mushrooms tossed in a tangy dressing of toasted, ground rice and lemongrass, without the heavy hand of chile like its meat counterpart.
If there’s a bone to pick, it’s the spicy-heat levels. “Mild” seems to have no burn whatsoever, while “medium” is erratic – sometimes just fine and other times tongue-searing hot. You can always order mild and add chile heat at the table from the condiment caddy. If things get too spicy, cool off with sweet, milky Thai iced tea or coffee ($2.50), or an Asian beer ($4-$7), and just wait the inferno out. Thai grub this authentic is worth it.
Cha Da Thai
Address: 8989 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale
Phone: 480-391-8900, chadathaiscottsdale.com
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Highlights: Miang kum ($8.95); mushroom larb ($9.95); tom kha ($11.95); poo goong ob woon sen ($14.95)
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