Spicy takes on Thai and Laotian cuisine on 12th Avenue South.
Written By: Chris Chamberlain
Photographers: Ron Manville
Odds are, the first person to greet you at the entrance of Thai Esane is the ebullient proprietor Nina Sayasack. After leaving her job as a hairstylist to work at her family’s King Market restaurant in Antioch, Sayasack acquired a coterie of fans who often made the trip to see her—and experience that restaurant’s spicy takes on Thai and Laotian cuisine.
What to Order:
Steamed Dumplings, $5.95
Papaya Salad, $6.95
Chicken Lemongrass Skewer, $12.95
Chicken Noodle Soup, $8.95
Malaysian-Style Noodles, $10.95
Esane Sausage, $13.95
When the opportunity arose to open an offshoot restaurant on 12th Avenue South, Sayasack jumped at the chance. Thai Esane (pronounced EE-sahn), which debuted in June, is named after Isan, the northeastern region of Thailand that borders Laos. Appropriately, the menu, created by Sayasack and her aunt, emphasizes cuisine from both countries, with the bolder spices and flavors of Laos complementing the traditionally sweeter Thai food. For example, their pad Thai is decidedly less sweet than many other versions—a conscious decision was made to go easy on the added sugar.
Truthfully, there is no such thing as “mild” on Thai Esane’s heat index. Most dishes are prepared with plenty of peppers to keep it authentic. Diners can choose medium, hot, or Thai Esane hot. (Once Sayasack gets to know you, she’ll determine whether you’re capable of handling a dish that’s “Nina hot.” Buyer beware!)
Streams of loyal customers have followed Sayasack from Antioch, and so too have their favorite dishes. Thai Esane’s version of kao piak is understated on the menu as chicken noodle soup. The perfect salve for a case of the winter blues, it’s made from hen broth simmered overnight and served in a massive bowl filled with strips of tender chicken meat, tapioca noodles that are whipped up in-house daily, and a garnish of crispy garlic and cilantro. Other popular dishes include a delicious housemade sausage with sticky rice and a number of noodle options ranging from Malaysian-style to pad see ew, which stir-fries wide flat noodles with eggs, broccoli, and carrots. There are smaller plates for sharing, like spring rolls and the delightful steamed dumplings made from chicken, mushrooms, celery, carrots, cabbage, and onions.
There’s also a full bar that serves craft beers, wines, and cocktails to accompany the spicy entrees. Go for the clever Esane Soho, a gin drink featuring fresh mint, lemongrass, and ginger plus lime juice and ginger beer. If you don’t have time to visit, the restaurant now delivers within three miles for a small service charge. You might even be lucky enough to see Sayasack pull up to your door!
907 12th Ave. S.; 615-454-5373; thaiesane.com