It took her thirteen years after leaving Thailand, but Montida Lertkiatsakul finally has the authentic Thai restaurant on Capitol Hill she’d been dreaming of.
“I came over to America in 2001 from Nonthaburi, Thailand,” she told me. “I started as a waitress at numerous restaurants, many of them Thai. In 2009 my sister and I opened our first restaurant in Queen Anne. It was called Thai Fusion and has recently been sold, but it was a great experience. I took a lot of what I learned from it and used it for building Manao with my business partner, Teeraya.”
She said opening a restaurant in Capitol Hill was an easy decision.
“Capitol Hill has always been our favorite neighborhood in Seattle. It has such incredible diversity and all of our customers and even other businesses around us have been so welcoming and friendly to us.”
Manao Thai Street Eats has only been open a few weeks at the corner of 13th and Pine, and it’s joining a slew of 11 other new Asian restaurants on the Hill that have opened in the last few months. But Lertkiatsakul isn’t too worried about that; she says the freshness, authenticity, and casual convenience of her restaurant make it stand out.
Herbal crispy chicken. Photo by Jenny Kuglin / The Capitol Hill Times
“If you go to Thailand you will see the streets lined with little Thai restaurants,” she said. “Most of them are hole-in-the-wall places, but the food is still amazing. We took what we liked about these places and integrated them into our design. So we have things like an open kitchen, open seating, a simple menu board you can see from street, and all kinds of spices you can add yourself.”
The décor at Manao is refreshing; with intense colors and lots of windows. The bright greens are a nod to the name, since Manao is the Thai word for lime.
“Our décor was inspired by the street eateries in Thailand,” said Lertkiatsakul. “Some of the small, family-owned spots over there are built by hand using whatever they could find. At Manao, we used a lot of reclaimed wood and surplus metal hardware, but made to still feel cozy and welcoming. Next spring we have plans of extending our seating outdoors and having open windows, so we are excited for that!”
She says the menu at Manao Thai uses traditional ingredients whenever possible.
“Some are harder to find, but in our dishes you will see Thai eggplant, galanga, Chinese broccoli, pickled krachai, green pepper with stern, among others,” she said. “We want to keep our food as authentic as possible. The biggest difference you will see from other Thai restaurants is we don’t spice up our food using the star system. Just like in Thailand, we provide spice trays so you can spice it the way you want.”
I unabashedly love Thai food and would eat it every day if I could. I tried several dishes at Manao and really appreciated the ability to spice everything myself. I’ve found the star system varies greatly from restaurant to restaurant in Seattle, and it can be really disappointing to bite into some drunken noodles that end up being too spicy to eat. Manao has spicing options on the table, as well as a spice bar full of interesting choices.
Pork and cabbage salad.
I recommend the Phad See Ew, Herbal Crispy Chicken, Basil Crispy Pork Belly (whenever there’s crispy + pork belly, I’m generally in), and Spicy Cashew Nuts. The dishes are beautiful, complex, and tasty, and most entrees are in the $10-$12 range.
“Our head chef Jum is awesome! He has a lot of experience cooking traditional Thai food, had owned a restaurant in Bangkok, and has had a passion for cooking ever since he was a child,” Lertkiatsakul told me. “He took months before we opened developing and perfecting our menu. His attention to detail is what we love most about him.”
But attention to detail is certainly not just reserved for the chef. Lertkiatsakul says she open and closes the restaurant herself every day.
“It can be difficult, but it is very rewarding personally to see people come in every day and leave happy and full,” she said. “It’s even better when they come back again and again. I love the hard work and I am very fortunate to be in a country that gives you so much opportunity that if you work hard enough you can accomplish anything.”