In a strip mall just south of Carkeek Park, across the parking lot from QFC and sandwiched between a hairdresser and a massage therapist, there sits an unassuming little dining room.
Done up in varying shades of blond plywood, smooth, black concrete floors and filament bulbs hanging in copper cages, it looks better than you’d expect, better than it needs to. The stainless-steel open kitchen gleams in back.
This is Kiin Kiin Thai Eating Room, where the food, also, goes beyond the expected.
There are the standards of Thai takeout — curries and kee mao, fried rice and som tum.
There are also “Thai style fresh rolls” ($9), which are unlike any other roll I’ve seen. Salty-sweet Chinese sausage, fried tofu and cucumber are rolled in a thin omelet, which is then rolled in rice paper. The rolls perch in a pool of tart tamarind sauce and are crowned, incongruously, with crab meat and jalapeños. It’s like a fevery cross of a spring roll, jianbing and an overenthusiastic sushi roll. It is confounding — and very good.
Dee Dee Techasetthachai, who opened Kiin Kiin in 2018, said she learned the roll from a Cantonese vendor who sold them on her street when she was growing up in Bangkok.
“This old Chinese man, every time he stopped in front of my house, everybody walked to his cart and ordered it,” she said. “A lot of people, when they order, I have to let them know this is kind of different.”
Techasetthachai learned to cook from her mother, helping prepare weekend meals for her eight siblings, as well as from neighborhood street vendors. She’d watch the vendors, questioning them about technique.
“I learn, I ask, I learn,” she said. When necessary, she’ll refer to YouTube.
Kiin Kiin, then, is Techasetthachai’s homage to the vendors of her youth.
Grilled squid ($8) comes unadorned, save for a scattering of cilantro. The big, thick rings are meaty and mineral, smoky from the grill, with a fiery lime-chili dipping sauce.
Pork belly ($12) is slow-roasted until tender, then cut into generous hunks and deep-fried before service. Then it’s wok-fried to order, with branches of gai lan, Thai basil and chilies. The meat is a deep-burnished copper, crisp and fatty. The chilies, nearly whole, are bright red and fiery. The greens are for your health. The colors interplay as nicely as the flavors.
Techasetthachai said that when she returns to Bangkok to visit, the smaller portion sizes mean she ends up trying way more things than she would at an American restaurant. To that end, the majority of the menu is $10 or less. “Bangkok noodle boat” ($6) is a bright, herby beef broth with rice noodles, balls of meat and slices of beef or pork. It’s pho-adjacent.
Also the owner of Naam Thai in Madrona, Techasetthachai immigrated to Seattle in 1997. She left Thailand, where she’d been working at the Bank of Tokyo, to get a graduate degree in finance at Seattle University. But when she finished school, well, she had family to support. She got a job in the kitchen of a now-shuttered Thai restaurant on the Ave. She’s worked in restaurants ever since.
“I give up a lot for cooking, you know?” Techasetthachai said. “But I’m happy. You do what makes you happy.”
Kiin Kiin Thai Eating Room, Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; 10023 Holman Road N.W., (Greenwood) Seattle; 206-922-3234