A good reputation can bring increased pressure. The incredible acclaim achieved by Lotus of Siam—including the praise from Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer Jonathan Gold—made it hard to imagine that the Thai restaurant’s sommelier, Bank Atcharawan, would succeed when he went it alone in 2012. Nonetheless, his solo project Chada Thai & Wine was an overnight success. His second project, Chada Street, in the heart of Las Vegas’ Chinatown, has received mixed reviews in its opening weeks. I have foodie friends who love it, and others who feel quite the opposite. But I think both are going a little overboard in their critiques.
Chada Street is a small restaurant that, as the name implies, focuses on street food, the sort of things I’ve eaten from vendors in Thailand. Some of Atcharawan’s renditions of these dishes have been exceptional. A few disappoint. And certain things (such as the fried rice) may be a bit too authentic for Americans. But I like the place, and anticipate returning frequently.
Atcharawan is best known to wine enthusiasts for being named Sommelier of the Year by Food & Wine in 2003. But locals knew him long before that, from when he was pouring reasonably priced wines and amassing a considerable collection at Lotus. Rieslings are his most frequently offered varieties, but he’s earned respect for going much deeper into the cellar. That’s a tradition he carried on to the first Chada concept. And he keeps it going at the new space. There are 50 bottles priced below $50, with the lowest being a $25 Spanish mourvedre. I’m not a serious wine drinker. (I’ll gladly grab a Polynesian cocktail a few doors down at the Golden Tiki on my way in—and again on my way out.) But at these prices I’m an easy convert.
Of course, I didn’t come to Chada Street for the wine. I come for serious Thai cuisine at a good price. And Atcharawan delivers. If you want a real bargain, try the hor mon Phuket. It’s a tiny piece of seasonal fish steamed wonderfully in a banana leaf with just the slightest hint of yellow curry. It’s a small portion, but at a mere $4, it’s impossible to complain.
Another place where Chada hits it on the mark is the fried rice. Far too many Thai restaurants in the Valley rely heavily on Chinese and Japanese influences on this dish. But if you’ve ever dined on the streets of Bangkok, you know true Thai fried rice is mildly sweet, with a nice fresh tomato in the center, and Chada’s is as authentic as you’ll find on this side of the Pacific.
Another incredible dish is the sai oua, a very spicy pork sausage reminiscent of the dishes on Lotus of Siam’s “secret” Northern Thai menu. And you don’t want to miss the kanom pung dessert: sweet, steamed bread served warm with an amazing pandan leaf-flavored custard.
As much as I like this place (and I like it a lot), there are a few dishes I’ll avoid on my next visit. The catfish larb is mediocre at best. The Street Pad Thai is decent, but not exceptional. And the tod mun pla (spicy fish cake) has an odd gelatinous texture. But none of those things bothers me much. Part of what I love about American Thai food is the chefs’ ability to experiment. And this is a great place to mix the traditional with the not so traditional.
Chada Street may never garner the same accolades that Lotus of Siam has earned, but on a street packed with some of Las Vegas’ top Asian cuisine, this is a place where you can get authentic Thai food and a very good glass of wine without breaking the bank.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Hor Mon Phuket ($4)
- Sia Oua ($8)
- and Kao Pad Rid Fai
3839 Spring Mountain Rd.,702-579-0207, ChadaStreet.com. Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m.- 3 p.m., and dinner 5 p.m.-3 a.m. Dinner for two, $25-$60.