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The month-old restaurant Thai on Canyon has a fairly self-evident name. A few minutes spent at a patio table gives a pretty good sense of place. You’re sitting in the heart of Canyon Road’s restaurant row, nestled between Geronimo and El Farol, with an impressive view of the mountains. It is what it is, you might think.
But, by the time the food arrives, or after you get your takeout home, lemongrass and turmeric, and basil and coconut milk have invaded your senses, and whisked you away to a corner of Southeast Asia you’re lucky enough to access from a portal on Canyon Road.
Chef-owner Siriporn “JJ” Khongkabrirat, who immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand two decades ago and opened the much-loved Madame Matisse bakery-café off Cerrillos Road in 2019, knows her way around her aromatic home cuisine. And, based on an array of outstanding dishes from a menu that wanders around Thailand, Khongkabrirat’s new restaurant fills a void after a period of years when Santa Fe was left with just one Thai restaurant.
The chicken pad Thai ($14.95) is probably the best you’ve had in ages, with salty and sweet stir-fried rice noodles in tamarind sauce, with crunchy peanuts, bean sprouts and green onions, savory egg and tender chicken chunks. Khongkabrirat excels at other Thai staples, too, including fresh rice-paper rolls with Thai basil, mint, cucumber, carrot, sprouts, rice noodles and plump shrimp ($7), served with a house-made hoisin sauce, and a heavenly yellow coconut-milk curry ($14.95) with potatoes, carrots and onions cooked to a texture that is equally yielding and firm. Get it with the scallion-flecked roti ($2) for maximum sopping pleasure.
Thai on Canyon’s menu contains more off-the-beaten-path surprises, too. Recent mouthwatering specials include Massaman-curried short ribs, and salmon poached in red curry and makrut lime leaves. An appetizer of chicken Buddha dumplings ($8.95) are dusted with grated Parmesan and presented in an airy, spring-like green curry sauce that’s studded with red and green peppers, and exudes the uplifting aroma of basil. The cooling diced cucumber and sweet chili sauce that accompanies the tod mun pla (Thai fish cakes, $8.95) is just as complex as the expertly formed and fried patties of red curried fish, green beans, basil and lime leaves. And I can’t wait to try the crab fried rice ($15.95) with Chinese broccoli, egg, peas, carrots, scallions and crispy garlic.
For a restaurant that’s doing an extra brisk takeout business (prepare to wait in a line of parked cars on Canyon Road at peak hours), God is in the details. Thai on Canyon is meticulous about doing fresh produce right. Vegetarians have reason to rejoice at perfectly prepared stir-fries, such as a mélange of soft stewed eggplant, Thai basil and chilis, garlic, tri-colored peppers and fried tofu ($14.95). In the pad kee mao (drunken noodles, $14.95), toothy green beans and tomatoes are tossed with other veggies and wide, flat rice noodles in an addictively garlicky, spicy sauce. To maximize your experience, choose an entrée with as many vegetables as possible.
The restaurant’s interior is only half-open for now, but tables are gratifyingly spaced out and the small space manages to feel breezy, not cramped. Some items on the website menu may not be available when you call, but with each visit or phone order, servers bestowed efficient and pleasant service. Takeout arrived home intact and at optimal temperatures.
On one of these newly sun-drenched March days as we reckon with the past pandemic year, you may want to treat yourself. Mask up and amble over to the gallery-lined “Art and Crafts Road” to get a table at Thai on Canyon. After an aromatherapeutic repast, you’re likely to reach one conclusion: this year, spring has come early to Santa Fe.