Great Thai Fare In McCully

Jo McGarry
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Friday - May 07, 2005
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Phuket Thai general manager Edwin Ohta
credits his female kitchen staff’s ‘gentle touch’
with the food for the restaurant’s popularity

In this city of a thousand restaurants and seemingly endless culinary styles, it’s sometimes hard to decide where to go for a pure ethnic experience. Fusion has hit the food scene in Honolulu hard, and while for the most part that’s a good thing, I sometimes just want to eat food that doesn’t look like it’s having an identity crisis. There are times when lobster ravioli with lemon grass infused beurre blanc is just what the doctor ordered — and there are other times I just want a plate of food that I recognize. One that’s reliably the same whether I try it this week or next month.

At Phuket Thai I always find what I’m looking for. There’s almost always a wait. They don’t take reservations, but I’ve never yet found anyone who minds sitting outside and waiting their turn. Me included.

The food, prepared mostly by a staff of women chefs, is as good as Thai food gets here in town, and apart from a wide-ranging heat level of the green papaya salad (the recipe, I’ve discovered, calls for a certain number of chilies, but doesn’t exactly state the size of the pepper … so some days it’s really hot), there’s a level of consistency that is incredibly reassuring.

There are two locations, one in Mililani that opens daily at 11 for lunch and stays open for dinner, and the original Phuket Thai in McCully Shopping Center.

McCully has its fair share of great ethnic restaurants — there’s Fook Yuen on the top floor of the shopping mall where lobster specials are a great deal and, as long as you don’t want a finedining experience with charming staff, the food is great. And there’s On On Chinese Restaurant, home of the cake noodle and some excellent Chinese food just around the corner. And Phuket Thai completes the true ethnicity of this little culinary corner.

Signature dishes aren’t much different from those found on most Thai menus; these just offer something a little bit extra. General manager Edwin Ohta told me once that the reason they think their food is so popular is that women bring a gentler touch to the kitchen. He may be right. Certainly there’s something special and a touch addictive about their Thai Crispy Fried Chicken. Could be the lemon grass marinade or the fact that the tender chicken is such a nice pairing with Thai chili sauce. Whole island fish is always worth ordering as are the popular appetizers — just made for sharing. Don’t leave without trying the stuffed chicken wings, shrimp rolls and fish patties.

If you’re a vegetarian, then Phuket Thai is probably high on your list of eateries — there are more than 20 meat-free dishes that even committed carnivores enjoy. There’s a limited wine list I’m not mad about wine with Thai food anyway unless it’s a nice crispy Riesling), but there’s Singha beer, and who needs anything else as an accompaniment to spicy food?

Prices are reasonable, service is pretty efficient and while the lines out the door seem ever-present, seating times are fairly quick once you’ve left your name with the hostess. I’m off, in fact, for dinner there. Last time I ate at Phuket Thai when I was pregnant I went into labor that night — keep your fingers crossed.

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