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Cafeteria-Style Restaurant Opens in Burgeoning 'Little Thailand'

By Katie Honan | February 19, 2014 9:43am
 Khao Kang on Woodside Avenue joins a list of other popular Thai restaurants in Elmhurst.
Restaurant With Cafeteria-Style Menu Opens in Burgeoning 'Little Thailand'
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ELMHURST — Bright, fluffy desserts and a small yet authentic menu are the star at a new restaurant on a stretch known as "Little Thailand."

Khao Kang, at 76th Street and Woodside Avenue, opened last week across the street from the Tea Cup Cafe and the bar Pata Paplean, and just down the street from legendary Ayada Thai.

Owner Sopan "Ta" Kosalanan, 34, has worked at Sea in Williamsburg and Thai Urban Kitchen in Chicago, but on the management side of the business.

His family-run restaurant, with an eye on design and ambience, is his first foray as a chef — and he said he feels like he's picked the right location.

"This neighborhood can be like 'Little Thailand,'" he said, referring to the many Thai residents and new businesses that sell food from his home country.

He fell in love with cooking, he said, in the six years he spent working in the Windy City.

"In Chicago, I started making my own dishes and realized I loved to cook," said Kosalanan, who now lives in Jackson Heights.

He decided to open Khao Kang a year ago, renovating the former tropical fish store and adding a rustic feel. The walls are lined with light wood, and the wooden tables feature bright lime green stripes.

His recipes come straight from his mother's kitchen, and are the meals Kosalanan ate growing up in Chanthaburi, Thailand, he said.

Since opening, both his mom, Tad Charernnan, 65, and his aunt, Kai Charernnan, 50, have been churning out a limited menu of the spicy, flavorful dishes like they've cooked at home.

The cafeteria-style menu changes every day, with a rotating list of six main dishes served with white rice, similar to what you'd find in Bangkok, Kosalanan said.

Two sides, like green beef curry and fried pork, costs $7, and an additional side costs $7.50.

"We put more spices in the food," Kosalanan said. "It's tastier."

The tables are adorned with a chili and lime oil that is sour and spicy, and the green curry paste is homemade — not from a jar, he said.

The bare-bones menu features a long list of beverages, including Thai iced tea and coffee, Chrysanthemum drink, a grass jelly juice and Longan juice, a sweet drink filled with large fruit chunks.

Both Charernnans bake their many desserts, which Kosalanan said are the best— and most authentic — in the entire city.

A bite-sized, chewy sweet in the shape of a flower, adorned with gold leaf, is a secret family recipe, he said.

Cotton candy-colored steamed cakes, flavored with Jasmine flower water, are light and fluffy and unlike desserts found in other restaurants, he said.

In the future, they plan to make a dessert station featuring Thai crepes and a larger menu of sweets.

His ultimate goal is to create a welcoming space for Thai immigrants like him, while also showing off a bit of creativity.

"I want to keep the Thai community together," he said. "My food is different than Ayada and Spicy Shallot, so we can all share the area."

Khao Kang, 76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst. Open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. For more information, call 718-662-8721.