Pinto Thai brings tastes of Thailand to Chelsea
Published 10:12 am Monday, August 31, 2015
By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer
CHELSEA – Two months ago, a local couple brought the tastes and culinary traditions of their native land, Thailand, to patrons of their new restaurant off U.S. 280 in Chelsea.
Phichaya and Punika Arimrahong opened Pinto Thai, a cozy, dine-in eatery featuring a range of authentic Thai lunch, supper and dessert dishes, on July 10, just a year after calling Chelsea home.
“We moved to Alabama in 2013. Then, we just bought a house a year ago in Chelsea,” Punika Arimrahong, 46, said. “That’s why we were looking for something to do close to our house.”
They were also looking for a shorter commute to work and more time with their four children.
Owning a restaurant met those needs, and it afforded 35-year-old Phichaya his own kitchen to manage.
“I can control the taste,” Phichaya said of Pinto Thai’s numerous dishes, from Thai rice and noodle dishes to entrees, Thai curries, soups and desserts. “I like good food.”
His specialties include: Pineapple fried rice, a famous chicken or shrimp fried rice dish with pineapple egg, garlic, onion, tomato, raisins, cashews and curry seasoning served in a half pineapple shell; mango with sticky rice, a Thai dessert; and Phad Kra Prow catfish, sautéed sliced catfish lightly battered with garlic, minced, hot chili, onion, bell pepper, carrot, mushroom, green bean, basil leaves in basil sauce.
Another special dish is the red dragon roll, a sushi dish with shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and crab meat and red Tobiko, finished with cherries for the dragon’s eyes.
“You cannot find this roll around here,” Phichaya said.
Another standout menu item is the Phad Thai egg wrap, the most famous Thai rice noodle dish with tofu, egg, bean sprouts, carrot, green onion and peanut in special Phad Thai sauce.
“We make it extra special,” Punika said, noting the egg is made omelet-style to fold over the other ingredients.
Other offerings customers will find are Phad Woon Sen, stir fried bean thread noodles with egg, onion, bell pepper, broccoli, baby corn, bean sprouts, green onion and mushroom in sweet soy sauce; and Gaeng Mussaman, mussaman curry slowly cooked with coconut milk, potatoes, carrot, avocado and peanuts.
Pinto Thai features Thai iced coffee and tea, as well as Pinky Milk and Green Milk, which are made with flavored syrup, sweetened condensed milk and topped with evaporated milk.
The restaurant gets its name from the Pinto box, a traditional Thai lunchbox.
In addition to the food, decorative touches of Thailand are present in the restaurant, from signs on the walls that read “Thailand most delicious is here” and “Welcome to our coffee,” along with the menus, which Punika brought over from Thailand.
Phichaya said he grew up in the restaurant business since his mother owned a restaurant in Thailand, and he never passed on an opportunity to help her cook.
“I always jumped in the kitchen when she was cooking,” he said.
Phichaya’s brother is a head chef in Florida, and his sister cooks well, too.
Phichaya also learned Thai cooking from Punika’s sister, who owns restaurants in Asheville, N.C., Slidell, La., Hattiesburg, Miss., and Thailand.
Phichaya and Punika have lived in the United States for nearly 14 years. Prior to relocating to Alabama, the couple lived in West Palm Beach, Fla., for about seven years.
Phichaya said he likes the lifestyle and “good oxygen” in Alabama.
“We love nature,” Punika said, adding the area’s numerous trees and mountains factored into their decision to move north.
Pinto Thai is open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, the restaurant closes at 9:30 p.m.
Pinto Thai is closed on Sunday.
Pinto Thai offers dine-in and carryout services.
“I enjoy (making) good food for customers,” Phichaya said. “I believe if you give people good food, (you) make them healthy. I try to cook for customers like I cook for my family.”