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Thai Taqueria on South Street: 6 Dishes to Look Forward to at Tuk Tuk Real

By Danya Henninger  |  July 17, 2014
Credit: Joshua Mallory

Ever heard of a Thai taqueria before? Probably not, but that’s not stopping Alex Boonphaya. The Circles chef-owner is partnering with sous chef Silvestre Rincon to open Tuk Tuk Real at 429 South Street.

“Tuk Tuk” means rickshaw — Boonphaya’s favorite way to travel when he visits Thailand — and “Real” comes from Rincon’s favorite soccer team, Real Madrid. The space, briefly home to Paul’s Idaho Fries, will be renovated and decorated with murals by Rincon’s artist wife. Expect around 45 seats, including a handful outside.

A Capital Grille alum, Rincon has worked with Boonphaya around a year and a half, but the pair only got the idea to meld their cultures into one restaurant recently. Who will be executive chef at the new spot? You can help decide: they’re holding a “knife fight” dinner on Thursday, July 24 at Circles Northern Liberties. Seats are $40, and get you six courses of Mexi-Thai food to taste and vote on. Whichever cook gets the most points also scores the exec title.

“Mexican and Thai cuisine actually have a lot in common, when you think about it,” Boonphaya says, noting that citrus and chiles are standards in both.

So far, the chefs have decided the menu will include tacos, tortas, quesadillas and empanadas, and a full meal with entree and appetizer will run you $15 or less. Sustainable sourcing is a big part of the plan, and many ingredients will come from D’Artagnan. Nothing is set in stone, but here are six brainstorms we’re already looking forward to.

1) Massaman Beef Tacos
Braised beef in massaman curry with pickled onions and kimchi

2) Mu Ping Buns
Pork shoulder marinated in palm sugar, lemongrass and fish sauce, then grilled on skewers and served on bao buns with pickled onion and kimchi (“Like an Asian taco”, Boonphaya says.)

3) Beef Tongue Tacos
“Both cultures love tongue — lengua in Mexican and lin wua in Thai — so we have to have it,” explains the chef.

4) Beef Massaman Quesadilla
Massaman curry braised beef, cheese, Thai basil

5) Empanadas With Thai Flavors
Classic beef or other empanadas spiked with lemongrass, Thai basil and chiles

6) Mexi-Thai Rice
Both cultures rely heavily on rice as a staple. Which kind will win out here? “We’ll probably use the flavors of Mexican rice, but build it using rice of Thai quality and texture,” Boonphaya says.

A mid-August opening is targeted.