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New Family-Run Thai Restaurant Opens with Tribute to MLK

By Alisa Hauser | January 21, 2013 11:26am

BUCKTOWN — While the South Side's King Drive — named after civil-rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — is a long way from Bucktown, that's where the wife and sister of the owners behind a new Thai Restaurant opening Monday can be found most days.

Neeti Sopavanich, 38, a National Board Certified Teacher known to her freshman algebra students as "Mrs. S.," has worked at Archer Height's Dunbar Vocational Career Academy, at 3000 S. King Drive, for the past nine years.

The teacher said she's been talking about O'Cha Thai Cuisine, her brother and husband's brand-new restaurant at 2062 N. Damen Ave., "for at least the past year" and has been showing pictures of it to her teacher friends.

 The menu at O'Cha Thai Cuisine.
The menu at O'Cha Thai Cuisine.
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O'Cha Thai Cuisine

On Monday, some of her fellow teachers plan to make the trek out to Bucktown for a noon luncheon in honor of King and O'Cha's entry into the neighborhood. 

O'Cha is the Thai word for "delectable," or "delicious," according to Jiraphong Sopavanich, Neeti's husband and the restaurant's chef, who owns O'Cha along with his brother-in-law, Art Chaiyanuwong, Neeti's husband of three years.

While sometimes in-laws don't always connect, when the two men were introduced through Neeti Sopavanich in 2006, they instantly became friends.

"I think they love each other more than me!" Neeti joked during a preview evening for family and friends Saturday.

Most recently, Jiraphong Sopavanich worked as an assistant manager of the Shiroi Hana Japanese restaurant at 3242 N. Clark St., which was sold to new owners in November. Chaiyanuwong, who plans to keep his day job as an IT programmer in the western suburbs, will fill in at night after work. 

Previously, Chaiyanuwong also worked as a sushi chef at Nano Sushi and Dib in Uptown, which serves Japanese sushi and Thai food.

Though both men have many years of experience as sushi chefs, they told DNAinfo.com Chicago that O'Cha's menu will be "strictly Thai."

While the restaurant's official "soft opening" is slated for 5 p.m. Monday,  Neeti Sopavanich said that having the day off for the holiday seemed like the perfect chance to celebrate the civil-rights lion, as well as get constructive feedback on the menu from anyone in the community who might want to stop by.

"We want feedback, it's very important," Neeti Sopavanich said. "We would love to hear what people think — this is the time for us to modify the menu or make changes based on suggestions." 

Prices on the menu — which contains many familiar Thai standards including pad thai, a noodle dish with bean sprouts, and Pad See Ewe, a noodle dish with broccoli and scrambled eggs in a sweet brown sauce — appear to be very reasonable.

Most soups and entrees are in the $7-11 price range, and a hearty list of appetizers including egg rolls, calamari fritters and chicken satay ranges from $4 to $8. 

"We're not pure authentic Thai," said Neeti Sopavanich, illustrating an example of using American broccoli instead of Chinese broccoli because it's "less bitter" in taste.

Though only serving a modified menu during O'Cha's first couple of weeks, the full menu will ultimately include no less than seven "Chef Specialties," which will range from $14 to $16 and include Duck Curry and Tamarind Black Tiger Prawns, which are spicy blackened shrimp in a tangy tamarind sauce and roasted pineapple.

While a specialty dish O'cha is calling the "Three Musketeers" is very popular in Thailand, it's not necessarily a mainstay in most Thai restaurants, according to Neeti Sopavanich.

The entree contains char-grilled marinated free-range Angus beef with a green papaya salad and sticky rice, served in a handwoven basket.

O'Cha Thai will celebrate its soft opening Monday, Jan. 21, beginning with the special MLK Day luncheon from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner at 5 p.m. A grand opening celebration is slated for Jan. 26.

The restaurant offers dine-in service for up to 47 patrons, as well as carry-out and eventually delivery. It accepts both walk-ins and reservations, and is good for kids and groups, according to its Facebook page.

Regular business hours after the MLK Holiday will be 11:30 a.m. 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Sunday, and 11:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday.  O'Cha Thai Cuisine, 2062 N. Damen Ave. Ph: 773-235-OCHA (6242).