Down the rabbit hole

Heading downstairs for some of Chico’s best Thai food

THAI HOT <br>Chada Thai chef/owner Somchai Tuanthet puts the flame to work on a curry dish for a lunchtime diner.

Chada Thai chef/owner Somchai Tuanthet puts the flame to work on a curry dish for a lunchtime diner.

Photo by jason cassidy

Chada Thai Cuisine
117 W. Second St., Suite B (downstairs)
Open nightly for dinner, 5-9 p.m. (till 9:30 p.m., Fri. & Sat.); and every day except Sunday for lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Chada Thai Cuisine

117 W. Second St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 342-7121

The sign outside Chada Thai claims it is closed on Sundays. Thankfully, that is no longer the case (as of a few months ago, it turns out). Accompanied by a friend of mine, I stepped down the short stairway leading to the underground restaurant and not only found it open, but quite lively with customers.

Chada Thai’s current owners (the husband/ wife, chef/waitress team of Somchai and Duangdao Tuanthet) have been serving the Chico community for 10 years, and clearly the restaurant has built up an excellent reputation, demonstrated by the continual arrival of hungry customers filling up more than half of the available tables on a Sunday evening.

A lot of work has been put into the restaurant’s atmosphere. Each table in the compact but roomy dining area is covered with a shimmering cloth and surrounded by well-stuffed upholstered chairs. The wall-to-wall light-colored wood paneling, as well as the window hutches displaying various Thai knick-knacks and art pieces, contribute to the elegant feel of the restaurant.

The menu is expansive, offering lists of dishes ranging from traditional favorites such as curries and noodle dishes to more exotic house specialties. Two pages are devoted to vegetarian dishes, 26 in all. In fact, every dish can be adapted for a vegetarian palate with a substitution of tofu, sautéed, roasted or fried in the same manner as any of the meat choices. My friend and I, being carnivores from way back, and tonight quite hungry, ordered liberally from all over the menu, selecting multiple meals as though we were expecting another couple to join us.

We started with drinks: a traditional Thai iced tea for me ($1.75) and a Thai beer, Singha, for my pal ($3.50). We chose a combination appetizer ($8.95), which offers two pieces each of four popular starters and two dipping sauces.

The Satay-Gai skewered chicken marinated in Thai herbs was tender thin strips with black charbroiled streaks across them, which added a smoky flavor. My friend was fascinated by the Tod Mun, round little fish cakes that didn’t seem like fish at all. The tightly compressed cakes had wonderful texture and exotic flavor. Po Pia, a fried vegetarian roll stuffed with mixed vegetables, also was unusual when one peered inside the wrapper. Instead of freshly chopped veggies, the filling was a mash of vegetable pulp and herbs. Savory and delicious!

The appetizer combo also included large puffy squares of lightly fried tofu, which were airy, a delightful contrast to the dense fish cakes and vegetable rolls.

Our main courses arrived quickly, impressive considering Duangdao was the only waitress serving the busy restaurant. Our table filled to capacity with platters and bowls of our different menu choices. Sautéed prawns with asparagus ($11.95) was served in a brown garlic sauce with large mushroom pieces, medium-sized slices of onion, small tomato quarters, red bell pepper spears, and crunchy, yet tender asparagus slices, generously portioned.

We chose beef to go with the Pad-Him-Ma-Pan ($8.95)—sautéed cashews with chili garlic sauce, fresh pineapple, onions, carrot rounds and mushrooms—which added a hearty flavor to the dark sauce. Pineapple was the heaviest flavor in this dish, nicely sweetening the vegetables and meat.

Our favorite of the night was one of the restaurant’s signature dishes: the Chada Noodle ($8.95), which is somewhat difficult to describe: The chicken is chopped in such a way that clumps, looking vaguely like they were already masticated, are completely tenderized absorbing every flavor from every ingredient sharing its plate. The chicken is sautéed with green beans, diced mushrooms, onions, red bell pepper and zucchini slices in spicy garlic sauce served on a bed of thin and clear steamed rice noodles. The portion of our Chada Noodles was considerably more generous than the other dishes.

Chada Thai has it all: incredibly flavorful, fresh and authentic Thai food that compares favorably to any Thai restaurant I have ever been to, but with very reasonable prices; quick no-nonsense service; and an elegant yet relaxed dining room … and now open seven nights a week.