TNT Diner

Here’s the lowdown on the Thai restaurant that opened where China House was in Lakewood

Chicken Thunder had a boozy rum-based sauce.
Chicken Thunder had a boozy rum-based sauce.

For all those diners who have been asking me about the old China House location in Lakewood, here’s your answer.

Chang Thai had its grand opening Saturday in the same complex that once housed China House (Phoenix Bistro also operated there). It’s right next door to Crane’s Creations, the floral business.

The new restaurant covers the greatest hits of Thai cuisine.

Its owners are Tom Saparam and Jong Jongthep, business partners who moved here from Kansas. Saparam arrived first. Jongthep followed two months ago.

Here’s a first-bite report. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.

The owners: Saparam and Jongthep knew each other from Topeka, Kansas. She worked in a Thai restaurant. Are there as many Thai restaurants in Kansas as we have here? “Only one in Topeka,” said Jongthep. It seated more than a few hundred diners. The Lakewood restaurant is considerably smaller.

Saparam landed in Lakewood because his sister lives nearby.

Seating: Booths and tables with room for parties of 4-6.

The menu: Every Thai dish you love is probably on the menu.

A list of 11 appetizers had fresh rolls, fish cakes, satay and calamari (all $4.95). Salads and soups listed tom yum and tom kha ($8.95), plus papaya and larb gai salads (both $9.95) and a house salad made with peanut sauce ($9.95).

Curries include the usual lineup of red, green, yellow, panang and massaman (all $9.95). Noodle dishes cover the usual territory of pad see ew, rama, kee mao and pad Thai (all $9.95). Eight styles of fried rice ($10.95 to $13.95) included an interesting sounding version with sweet, pork sausage ($12.95).

House favorites include swimming rama, crispy garlic chicken, broccoli in oyster sauce and a curious-sounding dish called “Chicken Thunder” (all $9.95 to $10.95).

And that’s only about half the menu. It’s big.

Chicken Thunder: I had to ask about this dish after giving it a try ($10.95). “We marinate the chicken overnight,” said Jongthep. What exactly brings the thunder? “Oyster sauce and a sweet sauce,” she said. Really? Kind of straightforward for a dish named after thunder. Then she added, “And rum.”

That explained the boozy thump in the grilled-chicken dish. The dish was mounded tall on a platter filled with vivid, snappy vegetables and a sauce that tasted faintly like a Thai rum and coke made with lemongrass. Order it.

Dining notes: They’re not shy with basil, cilantro or lemongrass here. I appreciated the perfumed note the fresh herbs and aromatics added.

Steamed dumplings from Chang Thai. Sue Kidd

Also try: Ground-pork dumplings were dotted with fried garlic and lots of fresh cilantro ($4.95). The rich-tasting peanut dipping sauce is house-made, said Jongthep.

I was intrigued by the sound of the house Chang Peanut Salad and was rewarded with a cool-and-crisp construction of rough chopped iceberg with layers of bell peppers, cucumber, red onions and tomatoes dressed in a tangy peanut dressing. With grilled chicken and fresh cilantro ($9.95).

Do order the sweet-and-peanut-heavy panang curry with a swirl of lemongrass and a choice of meat or tofu ($9.95). Kee mao noodles had some quality heat contact in a wok, leaving slightly browned edges (the way I like it), with plenty of fried holy basil leaves, plus fried egg, bell pepper, carrot, onions and tomatoes ($9.95).

Heads up, vegetarians: The restaurant gives a choice of soft tofu or fried tofu in lieu of meat. You know which camp you fall into (I’m solidly Camp Fried).

Panang curry from Chang Thai. Sue Kidd

Rice: Not included. Request jasmine ($1) or brown ($1.50) on the side.

Lunch specials: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, all priced $8.95, with rice and a pot sticker.

Spicing: Scale of not spicy, mild, medium, spicy and Thai spicy. I ordered everything medium and it arrived as ordered.

Chang Thai

Where: 8215 Steilacoom Blvd SW, Lakewood; 253-507-7696.

Hours: Serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner 5-9 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Open noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Sundays.