ALBANY PARK — The extreme makeover of the old police station in Albany Park is finally finished as acclaimed chef Arun Sampanthavivat is set to open his long-awaited second Thai restaurant.
The station, built in 1938, is now the Taste of Thai Town — complete with a Hindu god statue outside — after years of delay and fanfare.
The chef's business partner, Sunny Leon, and project manager, Tom Chirote Chia-Sriwong, say the police-station-turned-restaurant at 4461 N. Pulaski Ave. will offer casual Thai and Asian dining, in contrast to the award-winning upscale Arun's at 4156 N. Kedzie Ave., famous for its unique tastes, daily changing multicourse formal meals and gold leaf artwork.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. Friday is open to the public and will feature classical Thai dance and hors d'oeuvres.
Regular business hours begin at 5 p.m. Friday. Reservations are encouraged, but not required. Taste of Thai Town's phone number is 773-299-7888.
Hours on Friday are 5-10 p.m. Assistant manager Chana Sookhakitch said regular hours are daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., with plans to open until midnight, pending permits and a liquor license.
The food will be "fusion presentation but traditional taste," Leon said, noting that all the food would still bear Sampanthavivat's signature taste from his first restaurant.
The restaurant will share space with a spa on the building's second floor, still under construction when they open on Friday. The Thai American Foundation of Chicago also has an office and meeting space in the basement.
The restaurant's building has handicapped access and welcomes visitors to a sunny, cafe-style seating area across from a noodle and liquor bar. There is additional seating in a room down the hall across from the main dining area, which offers views of the Hindu god icon Pra Baroma Reusi to the front.
There is a small conference-style dining room in front of the kitchen, and a large banquet hall with an 80-person capacity down a short flight of stairs in the back. There is ample parking in the back of the restaurant.
Leon attributes the two-year delay to the renovation of the old building, which was purchased from the city, and to street and sidewalk construction last summer along Pulaski avenue. The city kicked in tax increment financing dollars as part of the building's overhaul.
The interior of the building features tributes to the Thai King Rama V, who reigned from 1868-1910 and who had kept Thailand from being colonized and absorbed into French Indochina.
The paintings were made by Arun's brother Anawat, who had also designed the gild image to the front of the building, which was handcrafted in Thailand.
The restaurant is the first of a planned set of buildings between Elston and Sunnyside streets along Montrose Avenue that will establish an Asian American presence in the North Side featuring the Thai American community.
Leon says they are scoping out the area for possible markets, restaurants and boutique hotels and are open for investors, but won't say which buildings they are tapping or who they are currently speaking with.
He is also reluctant to give a timeline as to when the businesses will open. Chef Sampanthavivat is also working on "Thailand Kitchen of the World," a cooking show scheduled to air on WTTW in the fall.
"That's phase two, not yet," Leon said, about building an Asian American community in the North side. "After the opening, we'll have a better idea when."
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