The first thing likely to catch your eye when you walk into Chow Thai Café are the bookshelves packed with travel guides to distant lands. Then you start to wonder whether the pad Thai or fried rice you were craving will emerge as an avant-garde fusion exercise. Nope. When the wafts of lemongrass, garlic, and chili peppers float out of the kitchen, it begins to seem like Chow Thai is straight out of Bangkok. It seems even more so with a few spoonfuls of tom yum soup ($3.50), a traditional-Thai twist on the Chinese sweet-and-sour staple. The broth, loaded with mushrooms, shrimp, and scallions, is thickened with a bit of chili paste, giving it just enough spice without muting the sweetness of the other seasonings.
Crab Rangoon ($4.95) — described as a "delicious squishy center of cream cheese, crab, corn, scallion, garlic powder, and a touch of shaved carrot," — is tough to resist. But if you’re still not sure which appetizer to select, try the indecisive’s delight: the Chow Thai platter ($8.95), a medley of their greatest hits, including steamed dumplings and herb-marinated chicken wings. Entrées, meanwhile, offer a choice of stir-fry, noodles, or curry. The curries have a distinct kick of galangal, a pungent ginger-like root. The stir-fries ($7.95–$10.95) come in a range of clever concoctions, such as hot basil leaves with vegetables swimming in a spicy sauce, and cashews sautéed in the juices of pineapple, peppers, onions, and other veggies.
All this can be yours in a modest alcove that is the only sit-down Asian restaurant in Charlestown. It’s been that way since Dan Huck and his partner, Bangkok native Mui Phermpoonpanich, opened the place a decade ago.
Chow Thai Café, located at 187 Main Street, in Charlestown, is open Tuesday through Thursday, from 11:30 am to 9:30 pm; on Friday, from 11:30 am to 10 pm; on Saturday, from noon to 10 pm; and on Sunday, from 5 to 9:30 pm. Call 617.242.5232.