- Alex Springer
We've all had to do our best to adapt while caught in the throes of this hellish pandemic, but restaurants have really had their work cut out for them. Traversing the land for takeout has been an eye-opening experience, as I've seen many places either buckle under the strain or innovate their concept and approach to take it to new heights.
One of the most interesting developments comes from a little Thai place in Milcreek called ChaiYo Thai Togo (3804 S. Highland Drive, Ste. B2, 801-890-0036, chaiyotogo.com). For starters, ChaiYo is takeout-only. Fond as I am of our Thai restaurant community, this is a new concept for me. I think packaging takeout-friendly Thai food is a good call even when we're not living in a crushing pandemic.
It was an idea that caught the attention of owners Prae and Kris Jones, who had been longing to open a restaurant of their own. In doing so, the pair has been able to cut overhead costs and redirect funds into excellent ingredients. It's a risky move, but it seems to be working well given our current circumstances, and I expect that popularity to sustain itself. That tends to happen when your food is amazing.
I'm prepared for a slight backlash of skepticism from those who roll up to ChaiYo's digs on the basement level of a slightly Lynchian office complex on the shoulder of Highland Drive. However, I also expect that skepticism will dissipate once the heady aromas of curry and stir fry hit your nose. Take it from me, the best restaurants are those that cannot be seen from the window of your car in transit, and ChaiYo is no exception.
A lot of ChaiYo's menu will be recognizable to Thai food enthusiasts—citrusy pad thai ($11), savory larb ($13), basil-infused pad par gow ($11) and all the colors of Thailand's curry rainbow are present. The recipes are courtesy of Prae's upbringing in Thailand—she learned everything she knows from the years spent cooking and eating with her family. She adds her own little flourishes to each takeout box; I dare you not to be charmed by the carrot and daikon sliced into heart and flower shaped garnishes.
Fans of Thai food will be pleased with whatever they order up, because Prae is not messing around. As I'm partial to massaman curry ($12), that's where I started. It's a fantastic specimen for those who like their curry with a tinge of peanutty flavor—the potatoes and carrots are cooked to perfection, and the peanut ration adds just the right amount of crunch to the whole dish. I definitely favor the massaman, but curry fans of any stripe will not be disappointed. There's a calculated consistency present in each dish that gives each individual flavor and texture a moment to shine before blending together in all that savory sauce.
Veering away from the curry section of the menu isn't a bad plan either. The unexpected hit of my few visits was the ChaiYo Fried Rice ($15), a mosh pit of chicken, beef, pork, shrimp and egg combined with onions, carrots and cherry tomatoes. It's like taking the universal deliciousness of ham fried rice and then adding every other meat you can think of to the party, while dangerously toying with that rice-to-soy-sauce ratio until every bite is drenched in umami bliss.
The ChaiYo Garlic Steak ($15) is also a great bet for those who like the sound of sirloin steak stir fried with copious amounts of oyster sauce and garlic. The sirloin soaks all that salty, garlicky flavor up nicely, creating tender bites that explode with savory sensation. If you've ever ordered beef and broccoli, you owe it to yourself to give this one a try.
If you're after something sweet to finish off the meal, the traditional favorite of mango sticky rice ($7) is here to soothe your Thai comfort food cravings. Don't ignore the chocolate mousse ($6) or the coconut pudding ($4), however. Topped with whipped cream and fresh raspberries, the mousse is rich, creamy and loaded with enough dark chocolate flavor to hold its own after such a savory dinner menu. Those who like something a bit lighter for dessert will enjoy the coconut pudding. It's not overly sweet, and is possessed of a flan-like texture that tickles the tongue while refreshing the palate.
After ruminating on my meals at ChaiYo, I thought about how hard it is to stand out in Utah's Thai restaurant scene. Most—if not all—of the Thai places in town are not only delicious, but they manage to set themselves apart in some way. I was curious to see how ChaiYo would add to this community of greatness along the Wasatch Front, and by damn, they've done it. A solid menu of Thai favorites, plus a few surprises, and an exclusively takeout approach make this place one to keep an eye on.