If you’re in the pro-pork belly camp, you probably think you’ve seen every incarnation of this glorious, fatty cut of meat. Dine at any modern Asian joint and you’ll find it sliced into planks, lacquered in sauce, and stuffed into a fluffy bun. Or you could splurge at a steakhouse, where luscious squares might be braised into submission (I’m looking at you, CUT and Heritage Steak). For unadulterated pig, there’s Filipino lechon kawali — salty nuggets that are deep-fried until golden and blistered.
Just when I thought the fleshgeist was over, the wheel was all but reinvented. At Chada Street, a massive new Thai restaurant on Spring Mountain Road, Wilbur’s tummy is prepared in an unexpected fashion. Rather than your usual chunks of fork-tender flesh, the belly is aggressively seasoned, sliced into thin strips and bathed in bubbling oil until a crunchy crust gives way to a juicy interior. It’s served unadorned on a stark white share plate, with only a tiny stainless steel sauce cup of green chile dip on the side.
Perhaps my endorsement doesn’t require a hard sell. After all, any crispy morsel of meat is guaranteed to please an omnivore. However, the pork belly’s slight shift in form was enough for me to take notice of an ingredient that I would otherwise deem tired and overused. (I should also mention that it’s only six bucks, which is a steal.)
It’s good to see the restaurant’s proprietor, Bank Atcharawan, stake his claim on Spring Mountain proper. The former manager of Lotus of Siam opened his first venture, Chada Thai & Wine, on south Jones Boulevard in 2012 to local and national acclaim. Distinctions include 2013 Sommeliers of the Year by Food & Wine and 100 Best Wine Restaurants of 2015 by Wine Enthusiast — high honors for an off-Strip property.
In the same vein as Chada Thai, Chada Street merges authentic fare with a contemporary atmosphere. Reclaimed wood walls, tufted sofas, and a polished, fishbowl-style wine storage room — it’s all very flashy and au courant rather than a hidden hole-in-the-wall.
The good news is that the food, prepared by chef Aime Wanmaneesiri, never compromises on flavor. Have some Kleenex on hand and get an order of sai oua. The northern style Thai sausage, which is heavily perfumed with lemongrass and kaffir lime, is cooked until the casing is pleasantly snappy. Each bite ends with a heavy dose of heat from bird’s eye chilies. At the risk of drawing the ire of food snobs everywhere, I dare say it’s on par with Lotus of Siam’s version.
Another success is the hoi pad prik pao. A mountain of tiny Manila clams is tossed with basil in a garlicky chili paste until the belly meat is just cooked through. It cries for a frosty beer, although Atcharawan would probably prefer to recommend an unusual white wine from his cellar. Save his pairing suggestion for the kao pad mun pu, or crab fat fried rice. There’s no skimping on this one — the rice is smothered with a generous pile of the crustacean’s flaky sweet flesh. (My sincerest thanks to whoever had the task of picking that much crab meat from its shells, especially since my table inhaled the dish in a fraction of the time.)
As far as our city’s dining scene goes, Chada Street is a welcome addition. It may not have the hipster vibe of Downtown’s Le Thai or the cool cred of Pok Pok in Portland, but it is most certainly a cut above the local competition. The prices are as cheap as takeout, the service is just as professional as you’d find on the Strip, and the food is as tasty as anything you’d chew on in Chiang Mai.
839 Spring Mountain Rd., 702-579-0207, chadastreet.com
Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30a-3p
Dinner Mon-Sun 5p-3a