This New Thai Joint in Poblacion Trades Pad Thai for Fried Chicken
At Khao Khai Thai Chicken House, you'll get a new kind of Thai street food.
Khao Khai Thai Chicken House
5772 Ebro Street, Poblacion, Makati City
Open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. (Monday to Wednesday); 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. (Thursday to Friday); and 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. (Sunday)
(SPOT.ph) With Khao Khai Thai Chicken House's beaded curtains, mismatched chairs, kitschy hanging lights, and tables covered in colorful floral and checkered table cloths—not to mention the wall adornments featuring the former King of Thailand and Buddhist idolatry—it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that you’re in some open-air restaurant in Bangkok. But this eatery isn’t in the Thai capital—it's along one of Poblacion’s side streets.
Pad thai lovers should be warned: You won’t find your beloved spicy stir-fried noodles here. Even so, you won't miss it since this newest Thai-themed spot serves other specialties that are likely to become favorites, like Bangkok street cart-style fried chicken.
It’s no wonder that the fried chicken called Gai Tod (P115/one piece; P190/two pieces; P260/three pieces; P869/whole with three rice and three som tam or Thai green papaya salad) is fast becoming their bestseller—after all, the restaurant’s name translates to “chicken rice." The chicken is best eaten when it comes right out of the fryer, but still manages to be perfectly crispy even if you decide to have it a little later.
If you’ve been to Bangkok, there’s a big possibility that you’ve chanced upon one of those street carts that peddle Thai fried chicken. “It is actually [popular] in Thailand—fried chicken,” says Daniel Mabanta, who owns Señor Pollo as well. This particular food concept was inspired by his numerous travels to the Southeast Asian nation that he considers a food paradise. He went to Bangkok and beyond, and has set foot in the country’s southern region, as well as Chiang Mai to really explore the food culture that he finds so complex. His restaurant highlights dishes from his travels and his own creations.
They try to stay as close to the real thing as they can, including the unique texture of the fried chicken that comes from the breading topped with crunchy bits of shallots. They also offer jaew, a mixture of fish sauce, lime, and chili flakes, that they serve with most of their dishes. It’s their everyday condiment—kind of like chimichurri in Latin America. “We don’t claim to be super authentic, at the end of the day, it’s really how the food tastes," says Mabanta.
If roasts are more your thing, then go for Gai Yang (P200/quarter; P350/half; P939/whole with three rice and three som tam), which is Northern Thai Isan barbecue chicken. There may be no crunch factor here, but the smoky, juicy meat more than makes up for it. You can do as the Thais do and use your fingers when getting a mouthful of sticky rice with every bite of the chicken dipped in jaew. You can also get it with a side of Som Tam (P250), hand-cut papaya salad that adds zing and fresh flavor to your meal—just watch out for the bits of bird’s eye chili. Or go for a milder veggie dish like a Plate of Garlic Green Beans (P115), which has a thick, garlicky sauce sans the heat.
For solo diners, you can opt for Khao Khai's rice bowls. If you’re looking for that deep, earthy curry flavor, you might just like the Dry Pork Curry (P225). Unlike your typical Thai curry, this version doesn't have the creamy, spice-filled sauce but, with the minced pork cooked in aromatic lemongrass, turmeric, and kaffir lime, it doesn't lack in the flavor department. This is topped with a Thai-style sunny-side up egg with crisp edges, both atop a bed of fluffy jasmine rice.
Another rice bowl option is Moo Hong (P190), braised pork belly in salt and pepper that’s also served with fried egg and scallions over jasmine rice. The chunks of pork might just remind you of adobo, and you’ll find its familiar flavors so comforting that finishing the whole bowl would be an easy feat. Soon on the menu will be their take on Burmese pork curry.
While Khao Khai doesn’t serve pad thai, an alternative is their original kitchen creation, Drunken Spaghetti (P350). It’s their Central Thai interpretation of a Western favorite—it's spaghetti cooked with garlic, chili, basil, and anchovies. A Thai-Italian fusion might sound strange, but you’ll enjoy the exciting flavors of this pasta dish, which you can also top up with chicken (P55) and/or fried egg (P20).
Wash it all down with a tall glass of traditional Thai Iced Tea (P70), a refreshing concoction made from tea, milk, and sugar. This sweet drink doesn’t just cool you down but also tempers the heat you’ll encounter from all the spicy food. And if you’re feeling carefree, you might want to sample their version that’s spiked with rum.
Staying to drink? Pair their beer or cocktails with Victory Wings (P290). These crispy chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and herbs would be the perfect accompaniment to a night of drinking.
With more Thai restaurants opening in the Metro, Thai food is fast gaining a foothold in the local food scene, and before long, they might end up as ubiquitous as Japanese or Korean food. Even without the usual pad thai, Khao Khai Thai Chicken House is a right step in that direction.
Photos by Ian Santos