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Early Thai food in Chicago?

Early Thai food in Chicago?
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  • Post #31 - December 27th, 2018, 11:38 am
    Post #31 - December 27th, 2018, 11:38 am Post #31 - December 27th, 2018, 11:38 am
    Started going to Thai restaurants in the mid 70's and remember many of the places mentioned, Thai Room, Roseded, Siam Cafe/Siam Noodle, Thai Villa, Thai Little Home Cafe, Thai Star (always thought is was a few notches below the north side spots, but convenient when living in the Medical Center 'hood), and I am sure I forgot about a few others.

    Reading annieb's comment about eating at Siam Cafe, 3 to 5 times a week, reminded me of my long term relationship with Thai Aree. On my way home from work in the early/mid 80's, it was so easy to not cook and stop in and see Eddie and Ann two or three times a week (and eat in or take home) and another stop occasionally on the weekends with friends. Never tired of it even after a few years. While I loved other northside spots further east that I would also stop at frequently, Thai Aree always felt like my homebase Thai restaurant.
  • Post #32 - December 27th, 2018, 12:55 pm
    Post #32 - December 27th, 2018, 12:55 pm Post #32 - December 27th, 2018, 12:55 pm
    My first Thai was in the late '70s at Western and Winnemac, the current site of I Monelli. Can't remember the name; I know it was discussed on LTH many years ago, but can't find that thread now.
  • Post #33 - December 27th, 2018, 1:06 pm
    Post #33 - December 27th, 2018, 1:06 pm Post #33 - December 27th, 2018, 1:06 pm
    adipocere wrote:So how long since the first Vietnamese place opened?

    You'll find this topic discussed here in the Oldest Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago ?? thread.

    adipocere wrote:First Korean?

    Early Korean restaurants are discussed in this post from the Pusan House thread.

    adipocere wrote:First Indian or Paki place?

    A timely question. On January 19, 2019 Colleen Sen will give a talk to Culinary Historians of Chicago: Currying Interest in Indian Cuisine from its Arrival in America to its Rise in Chicago. If you follow that link, you'll find the answer to your question. If you attend the lecture, you'll learn a lot more.

    adipocere wrote:For that matter, about when did the first Filipino restaurant open here?

    I don't know which was first, but around 1930 Chicago had at least two Filipino restaurants. Both are included in John Drury's 1931 book, Dining in Chicago.

    John Drury wrote:

    MANILA VILLAGE CAFE
    837 North La Salle Street

    Filipino cookery, a combination of Oriental, Spanish, and native edibles, is something new in Chicago and is fast winning the favor of Chicago friends of the Filipinos as well as lovers of foreign viands. Here, in this plain undecorated restaurant in the basement of the Filipino Community Center, these dishes from over the Pacific are prepared in a highly appetizing manner and in true native style. There is pansit, a sort of appetizer composed of ravioli, bits of meat, noodles and dried shrimps; adobo, an entree, which is spare ribs of pork, fried, steamed, and served in a transparent brown gravy with just a touch of garlic in it; and shrimps guisado, composed of shrimps and celery suffused with soy sauce; and Filipino cabbage and chop suey. And, as in Chinese and Japanese restaurants, you are supposed to eat plenty of rice from the bowl before you. Most of the boys from the surrounding Filipino colony eat here, as well as the local leaders of the race, including Pablo Katigbak, staff writer of the Chicago Daily News. There is another Filipino restaurant around the block on the second floor at 642 North Clark Street, where the same native dishes are served. It is conducted by Pedro Abicilla, who is a student at the University of Chicago. Visitors are welcomed at both places.


    nr706 wrote:My first Thai was in the late '70s at Western and Winnemac, the current site of I Monelli. Can't remember the name; I know it was discussed on LTH many years ago, but can't find that thread now.

    That was Thai Cousin, mentioned earlier in this thread.
  • Post #34 - December 27th, 2018, 4:20 pm
    Post #34 - December 27th, 2018, 4:20 pm Post #34 - December 27th, 2018, 4:20 pm
    Cathy2 wrote:I am just as thrilled to have a post updated after 13 long years.

    Yup! Props for the 13-year bump!

    Giovanna wrote:I could swear that the Thai Room was the first and only for a while. Well, maybe not.

    Apparently not. Thai Room's website says they have been around for 39 years, which is not as long as some others (see below). And it mentions the demise of their restaurant Thai Sookdee in Evanston, which only closed a couple of years ago, so I would assume the website is reasonably current, which means they opened around 1979.

    Of course, a website might be wrong. For example, the current website for P.S. Bangkok in Lakeview says they've been around for 19 years. Maybe that's all for the current management, but I remember going there in the late seventies or early eighties, same location as current. And I remember that the service, at least on that occasion, left something to be desired, because from then on my friends and I referred to it as "Pretty Slow Bangkok". :)

    I have a copy of the restaurant listings from several issues of Chicago Magazine from the 1970s. Not that they are comprehensive (although at that time they were pretty good), but if a restaurant was listed, we can assume it existed at that time.

    July 1973 issue lists two Thai restaurants: Bangkok House and Thai Restaurant (that was its name)

    June 1975 lists those two plus Bangkok

    June 1978 lists those three plus Shanghai (which is listed as Thai, Filipino, Cantonese)

    The Thai listings expanded in the few years, after that, because the January 1983 issue had added Rosded, Siam Cafe, Thai Cousin, Thai Little Home Cafe, Thai Room, and Thai Villa (and had dropped all but Bangkok House of the four previously listed).

    For a real trip down memory lane for anyone around at that time, here's the page from the July 1973 issue categorizing all the restaurants in their listings (and including Thai restaurants in the now-politically-incorrect category name "Oriental"):

    Image
  • Post #35 - December 28th, 2018, 11:47 am
    Post #35 - December 28th, 2018, 11:47 am Post #35 - December 28th, 2018, 11:47 am
    Panther in the Den wrote:
    chicagojim wrote:
    Panther in the Den wrote:I remember enjoying Thai food in Oak Park in the '80s.

    Pardon me of I don't recall the names but there was places...

    ... on the corner of Ridgeland and Madison where Cuzzo's currently is, 330 Madison St
    ... on Harlem where Mickey's is, 525 N Harlem Ave, Oak Park

    The food was good but I remember how odd it was that the hot food was served on a bed of lettuce?!?


    Mickey's was a Thai restaurant? We lived very close at the time, and I thought it went right from a Burger King to Mickeys. Was the Thai place there long?

    Not all that long. A couple of years maybe.


    The Thai place on Madison/Ridgeland was actually King and I (in 1984) that moved to the mall after a year or so. Before he moved in there, it was a guy named Charlie's serving really excellent Chinese - mainly Szechuan/Hunan. He moved to Hawaii in '83. We lived a block away and spent a lot of time there.

    The place in Mickey's was Mimosa Cafe Vietnamese. They moved from a tiny storefront at Grand/Harlem. We discovered them in the mid 80's and got to know the owners and suggested the old Burger King in Oak Park when they were looking to move/expand. They spent 3 or 4 years there (probably closing in 93?). Food was fantastic, got great ratings, but couldn't find competent waitstaff to help them. More than too many times, I would overhear a waiter recommend one of the simple Chinese dishes they had as 'their favorite'....ugh. Their son is a member on here, we've connected on one of the Vietnamese threads.
  • Post #36 - December 28th, 2018, 1:26 pm
    Post #36 - December 28th, 2018, 1:26 pm Post #36 - December 28th, 2018, 1:26 pm
    Trip down memory lane. Fun to remember those early explorations.

    First Thai for me, as is true for many others in this thread, was at Thai Room back in the '70s. Then the brother of the owner of Thai Room opened a place in Evanston (don't remember the name, but was pleased to have a suburban place). After my first exposure to Thai food, my younger brother decided it was his unofficial duty to find a new Thai restaurant every year for my birthday. And there were always new places.

    It was a few years after that first Thai outing that I was introduced to Korean food, at Evanston's Mandarin House.

    First trip to Asia was in 1996, and included Hong Kong, Thailand, and Indonesia. (I had discovered Indonesian food in Amsterdam during a semester abroad, back in 1972, so had some familiarity with that, too). Was happy to discover that Chicago's Thai restaurants had prepared me well for my travels in Thailand. And as more exotic ingredients have become available in the U.S., it was lovely to also find that travels in Asia prepared me for new menu items here. In fact, while eating a banana flower salad in Thailand during a more recent trip, I remember thinking, "Enjoy it here, because you'll never see this back in Chicago" -- but now, banana flowers can even be found in the big multi-ethnic grocery stores.

    Good fun. And always more to learn and more memories to create.
    "All great change in America begins at the dinner table." Ronald Reagan

    http://midwestmaize.wordpress.com
  • Post #37 - December 28th, 2018, 1:47 pm
    Post #37 - December 28th, 2018, 1:47 pm Post #37 - December 28th, 2018, 1:47 pm
    I love this thread, too -- my husband and I first discovered Thai food in Chicago in the mid-80's and couldn't get enough. In addition to many of the ones mentioned here, one favorite was Thai Pan, which was on the south side of Devon Avenue not too far west of the Loyola area. Their salads were a revelation to us at the time, and the young man who always helped us was incredibly kind and friendly.

    Great memories --- thanks for resurrecting the thread!
    "There’s only one thing I hate more than lying: skim milk, which is water that’s lying about being milk."
    - Ron Swanson
  • Post #38 - December 28th, 2018, 2:33 pm
    Post #38 - December 28th, 2018, 2:33 pm Post #38 - December 28th, 2018, 2:33 pm
    Cynthia wrote:First Thai for me, as is true for many others in this thread, was at Thai Room back in the '70s. Then the brother of the owner of Thai Room opened a place in Evanston (don't remember the name, but was pleased to have a suburban place).

    That was Thai Sookdee. We loved it; for twenty-five years, it was our go-to place for Thai. As noted above, it closed two years ago. We're still sitting shiva over its loss.
  • Post #39 - March 22nd, 2019, 10:43 am
    Post #39 - March 22nd, 2019, 10:43 am Post #39 - March 22nd, 2019, 10:43 am
    nsxtasy wrote:
    Giovanna wrote:I could swear that the Thai Room was the first and only for a while. Well, maybe not.

    Apparently not. Thai Room's website says they have been around for 39 years, which is not as long as some others (see below). And it mentions the demise of their restaurant Thai Sookdee in Evanston, which only closed a couple of years ago, so I would assume the website is reasonably current, which means they opened around 1979.

    Of course, a website might be wrong. For example, the current website for P.S. Bangkok in Lakeview says they've been around for 19 years. Maybe that's all for the current management, but I remember going there in the late seventies or early eighties, same location as current. And I remember that the service, at least on that occasion, left something to be desired, because from then on my friends and I referred to it as "Pretty Slow Bangkok". :)

    I have a copy of the restaurant listings from several issues of Chicago Magazine from the 1970s. Not that they are comprehensive (although at that time they were pretty good), but if a restaurant was listed, we can assume it existed at that time.

    July 1973 issue lists two Thai restaurants: Bangkok House and Thai Restaurant (that was its name)

    June 1975 lists those two plus Bangkok

    June 1978 lists those three plus Shanghai (which is listed as Thai, Filipino, Cantonese)

    The Thai listings expanded in the few years, after that, because the January 1983 issue had added Rosded, Siam Cafe, Thai Cousin, Thai Little Home Cafe, Thai Room, and Thai Villa (and had dropped all but Bangkok House of the four previously listed).

    In a post from 2005 in this thread, I tentatively concluded Thai Restaurant (5143 N Clark) was Chicago's first predominantly-Thai restaurant (in 1972 or before), but Shanghai Restaurant (406 S Clark) might have offered a limited Thai menu somewhat before that.

    In that 2005 post, Rene G wrote:So perhaps Thai Restaurant in Andersonville was the first mostly-Thai restaurant in Chicago (arguments about authenticity aside). Possibly Shanghai served some Thai dishes earlier.

    I stand by that conclusion, and since that long-ago post I've found additional information on Chicago's earliest Thai restaurants that I think comes close to settling the issue.

    A review of Thai Restaurant from July 1971 clearly states the restaurant opened the previous month. In a follow-up at the end of the year, the reviewer notes it was "the first in Chicago to serve this cookery, a blend of cuisine of India and China."

    Bangkok House at 2455 W Devon came next, being opened in early 1973 (possibly late 1972) by one of the original partners from Thai Restaurant. "It's Chicago's second restaurant specializing in fare of Thailand."

    I also found a review of Shanghai Restaurant – primarily a Chinese restaurant – from February 1971. Though the review focuses on Shanghai's Filipino offerings, a separate menu of Thai food is briefly mentioned: "It developed I had a menu listing Thai entrees. Miss Snead and Yates had a standard menu. I discarded the Thai menu and picked up another, which listed Filipino dishes." Clearly, Shanghai was serving some Thai food before Thai Restaurant opened.

    The above evidence supports the conclusion I arrived at in 2005, but the new information allows it to be refined: Thai Restaurant at 5143 N Clark became Chicago's first restaurant devoted to Thai food when it opened in June 1971. Before that, however, Shanghai Restaurant at 406 S Clark served some Thai dishes from a separate menu.

    Getting back to the original question: Where does Thai Room fit in the chronology of early Chicago Thai restaurants? This still-existing restaurant at 4022 N Western opened in March 1978, according to a review from later that year. I've found evidence of at least 12 Thai restaurants (not including Shanghai) that opened in 1977 or before.

    1971: Thai Restaurant
    1973: Bangkok House
    1975 or before: Bangkok Restaurant, Siamese Restaurant, Vachira (alphabetical order)
    1976 or before: New Siam, Rosded, Siam Cafe, Sorndang Cafe, Thai Cousin, Thai Little Home Cafe (alphabetical order)
    1977 or before: Thai Villa

    That would place Thai Room no earlier than 13th in the progression of Thai restaurants in Chicago.
  • Post #40 - March 22nd, 2019, 12:40 pm
    Post #40 - March 22nd, 2019, 12:40 pm Post #40 - March 22nd, 2019, 12:40 pm
    Just to add another data point to your thorough research...

    On October 8, 1976, the Tribune published an article by Mark Knoblauch entitled "Thai it, you'll like it: A guide to Thai eateries". It confirms that "The first Thai restaurant (NOTE ADDED: Thai Restaurant, noted later in the article as Chicago's first, as you mentioned) opened in the heart of Andersonville, Chicago's Swedish community, about five years ago. Since then, eight more have opened". The nine restaurants reviewed in the article are Rosded, Sorndang Cafe, Thai Little Home Cafe, Bangkok, Bangkok House, New Siam, Siam Cafe, Thai Cousin, and Thai Restaurant.

    One more note... Vachira was reviewed in the Tribune by John R. Thomson on May 9, 1975, and he said "It has been open for about five months". I don't know why it wasn't included in the October 1976 guide. The other restaurants mentioned here and in Rene's post above did not appear in the Tribune prior to the October 1976 guide.

    Oh, and as a sign of how far Thai cuisine has proliferated, if you go to the restaurant listings in Metromix and filter on Thai cuisine, there are now 252 restaurants. A small fraction are pan-Asian or fusion type places, but most are Thai-specific restaurants.

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