Thai Changthong has worked in some interesting places, among them Uchiko Austin under the tutelage of Paul Qui. After working there he opened a restaurant in North Austin with Ek Timrerk (You may remember him from our piece on Kin and Comfort, a modern Southern-Thai fusion concept in North Austin) called Spin Modern Thai. While the restaurant was short lived, due to issues with the ventilation system, the food there was amazingly well executed and flavorful.
Thai-Kun, Changthong’s next foray into the culinary world, with his partner Paul Qui, opened in April of 2014 and quickly made the top 10 in Bon Appetit Magazine’s Best New Restaurants in America. That’s quite an accomplishment for a humble food trailer that now sits on the back patio at Whisler’s, an ultra-hip, yet unpretentious bar on Austin’s East Side.
Thai-Kun is part of the Qui Empire for sure, but where Qui focuses on predominantly Filipino food, Chef Changthong focuses on what is affectionately referred to as the “O.G. Thai” (Original Gangster Authentic Thai). This is spicy, no sugar added Thai food that will make your mouth water and your lips burn.
Our first taste was waterfall pork, the spiciest dish on the menu. The dish was full of flavor and heat. The grilled pork shoulder was very tender. It was drizzled with Tiger Cry sauce and sprinkled with toasted rice powder. Cilantro and red onions are bright and clean counterpoints to the spice of the pork. It was served with pickled cabbage and sticky rice to cool and temper the heat. This was a truly addicting dish that I just could not stop eating.
Next up were the black noodles, which were rice noodles cooked in soy sauce and garlic oil. They were then mixed with romaine lettuce, croutons, bean sprouts, celery, croutons and green onions. This was the perfect dish to serve with the waterfall pork due to its cooling nature.
The Issan sausage with distinctly fermented notes was perfectly ground and had a crispy snap. It was served with ginger, fresh herbs and cabbage. While it was tasty, it needed a little more punch besides the fresh herbs and ginger. I can’t help thinking that glazing in a spicy sauce would have done the trick.
After that we sampled the caramelized pork belly served over jasmine rice with cilantro, red onions and cucumber. The pork belly was a little on the sweet side and could have been slightly more tangy with larger pieces of pork belly. Don’t get me wrong, I love pork belly, but going a little easier on the sweetness and cutting the pork belly into larger pieces would have done the trick.
Our last taste at Thai-Kun was the Thai-Kun fried chicken, which was made with soy sauce marinated chicken. From what I can guess, it was a rice flour coating, since the breading was super light and crispy. It was served with chicken fat rice and Boom sauce (a slightly sweet but intensely spicy chili sauce with a touch of fish sauce). This was a very different interpretation of fried chicken compared to what I am used to but I really loved the play among the flavors.
I have to admit, that the food at this trailer was overall some of the best food I have had at a trailer here in Austin in a long time. With the popularity of food trucks here in the ATX, that’s saying something. From the execution of the dishes to the quality of ingredients, it shows in the end product, and I can see why the trailer made Bon Appetit’s list.
And the best part? The trailer is so popular that the owners are currently in the hiring process for the new brick and mortar at the Domain in North Austin. Look for the opening early this fall in addition to a 2nd Thai-Kun trailer slated to open at Steampunk Saloon on West 6th Street next month.
It is only a matter of time before the waterfall pork calls to me again. Try it, you don’t know what you are missing!