Tucked in a corner of the Chinatown International District is this gem of a restaurant that does Thai food the way it's done in Thailand and makes you feel like you're eating in a friend's kitchen.

Share story

Eating at Song Phang Kong, a tiny Thai restaurant in the Chinatown International District, feels like you’re eating in a friend’s kitchen.

Not a fancy lifestyle magazine kitchen. There’s no salvaged barn wood or marble counters or all-white cabinets. It’s like a kitchen in a modest, weathered apartment.

It’s not much bigger. There are only four tables and 12 seats. Wall hangings are mismatched. There are framed prints of cherubic angels, a rooster with a bucket, a still life with cherries and oranges. It’s kind of chilly sometimes — but there’s a space heater, you’ll be fine. Storage space is slim — a couple cases of coconut milk are stacked in the corner. There’s a big rice cooker on the counter. It feels well worn, lived in.

Sitthichai Suwanmanee, 25, and his mother, Thanaporn Luijan, have owned the restaurant since 2015. They, or their sole employee, are happy to dote on a rare dine-in customer. (Most of Song Phang Kong’s business comes via delivery service. There are four different tablets on the counter, one for each of Peach, Caviar, Grub Hub and their ilk. It feels very Seattle 2019.) Nothing costs more than $12. If you leave a cash tip that your server deems too generous, she might try to give it back. You may have to hide it under a plate on your way out.

And while most of the menu is familiar, the food tastes different. Brighter, fresher, more electric.

A grilled pork salad ($9.95) has thick slices of charred meat, imbued with lime, chili and a deep fish-sauce funk. It’s scattered with red onions, scallions and mint and everything soaks onto a crisp bed of romaine.

“This is what I’ve been looking for,” my friend Ben, who lived in Thailand for two years, said when we first ate there. “This tastes like Thailand.”

Green papaya salad ($9.95) is a bird’s nest swirl of shredded papaya and carrot, bruised from a toss in a bucket-sized mortar and pestle. It’s scattered with poached shrimp, long beans, peanuts, tomatoes and little daggers of sliced chili. It throbs with lime and heat.

Crispy garlic chicken ($11) is knuckle-sized hunks of meat, tempura-battered, fried and tossed with chili sauce and sugar. Fried basil leaves sit on top. It’s like a much happier relative of General Tso’s chicken, with none of the cornstarchy gloop.

A basil stir fry ($12) doesn’t come with a sunny-side-up egg. It comes with an egg that skirts the line between wok-fried and deep fried; its yolk still molten, its white crispy, puffed and angry.

Sometimes a couple of desserts are listed, sometimes they’re not. Ask for the black sticky rice. It’s rice, coconut milk and sugar; a dreamy cross between rice pudding and coconut soup.

Luijan came here in 2007 from Nakhon Si Thammarat, a district in southeast Thailand. Suwanmanee followed in 2012. She normally does most of the cooking, but she’s back in Thailand for the next couple weeks, visiting family. Her son is manning the stove in her absence.

Who’s the better cook?

“My mom,” he laughs, sheepishly. “She’s a really good cook.”

_____

Song Phang Kong, 1017 S. Jackson St. (Chinatown International District), Seattle; Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; 206-323-1782