Thai treats

Going downstairs for downtown delights

FIRE DOWN BELOW <br>Deep in the bowels of Second street, Somchai Tuanthet, part owner and cook at Chada Thai makes another satisfying meal for the surface dwellers of Chico.

Deep in the bowels of Second street, Somchai Tuanthet, part owner and cook at Chada Thai makes another satisfying meal for the surface dwellers of Chico.

Photo By Tom Angel

More info: Chada Thai is located at 117 W. Second St. in Chico (342-7121). Hours: Mon.-Sat., 11-2:30 for lunch, 5-9 for dinner.

Eight or nine friends and I decided to go out to lunch, and everybody agreed on Thai. Unfortunately, that’s where the agreement ended. With at least five restaurants in town that serve Thai these days, we couldn’t quite decide which one.

Finally, somebody insisted on Chada Thai, beneath Brooklyn Bagels on Second Street downtown, claiming, “They have the most marvelous Thai ice teas!” Having never had a Thai ice tea before, I was more than happy to cast my vote for Chada, because at that point I was starved. I just wanted to eat!

The iced-tea suggestion did the trick—we headed for Chada and soon found ourselves nicely greeted and comfortably seated at a large table. I liked the Thai iced tea ($1.75), which is a singular drink—rich with cream and sweet to the tongue.

Chada Thai is a bit more informal and relaxed than some of the other Thai restaurants in town—perfect for a midday, downtown Chico kind of lunch where we were all ready to let our hair down a bit, even though it was only Wednesday (some of us start preparing for the weekend early).

After perusing the extensive menu, we ordered at least eight or nine of the generously portioned dishes (we later had to box things up!). When the food arrived, we did the pass-around thing. Nobody wanted to leave the table without trying at least a bite (or two or three or four) of everything.

Our waitperson, apparently the owners’ daughter, must have been all of 10 or 11, which is emblematic of Chada Thai’s “family restaurant” atmosphere. She had shoulder-length black hair, quaint wire-rimmed glasses and a shy expression. For a young girl, she proved fairly thorough and proficient at her job, although she was very quiet; however, I’m sure it must have been intimidating serving a large group of ravenous, loquacious adults. She took it in stride when one of us returned a pot of tea, complaining it was lukewarm. Clearly, she’d handled her share of adults who had a gripe or two.

While everything we ordered arrived well prepared and was tasty, I especially recommend the curry entrees. There are six items that come with a choice of meats or tofu, and there are four vegetarian choices that come only with tofu. I ordered the Kang-Dang ($7.50), red curry with coconut milk, fresh Thai basil, zucchini, bamboo shoots, carrots, green beans and bell peppers. This dish stood out above all others—but then I’m a curry junkie. The Chada Thai chef has an agreeable flair for preparing curry dishes, because all it takes is a tiny imbalance of curry to render a curry dish inedible. The Kang-Dang, though, was impeccable.

The other dishes that caught my eye (or, taste buds, as it were) were the dishes containing seafood of any type (calamari, scallops, etc.). We could have been next to a wharf or maybe out on an island somewhere, as the seafood tasted improbably fresh, as if a fisherman were yanking a line out of the water and landing an impressive catch right on the sidewalks of downtown Chico (which would be a surreal but pleasant sight—like something in a Gregg Payne mural).

For the vegetarians of the world, there’s no lack of choices at Chada Thai. Vegetarian appetizers, salads, soups, entrees, curries and fried rice or noodle dishes beckon those who eschew meat (which, to me, is unimaginable).

The one dish I was not thrilled about contained steamed rice noodles, but this was just a matter of personal preference—it was too starchy for me. Starch lovers may swear by these noodles, however. The steamed rice that came with our dishes was superb—fresh, steaming and moist. All of the dishes were reasonably priced.

One perk of eating at an Asian restaurant is that you can request chopsticks, and I urge you to do so when you visit Chada Thai. Eating with chopsticks—especially when you’ve ordered a curry dish—makes the meal much more authentic and memorable, a true Thai treat.