All-American is a series that looks at beloved, long-standing North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for good or bad — over the years.
For a while, pad Thai was so important to the Chuskul family that it was on the marquee. Out in front on the sign were the words “Bangkok Inn, Pad Thai Restaurant.” The dish, then and now, meant everything to their family. Back home, Patcharee Chuskul studied its components in the best place to learn a core-satisfying bowl of comfort food: under the umbrella of a street cart.
Patcharee Chuskul would rove the outdoor markets of Ratchaburi, a province just west of Bangkok, watching the street cooks prep the noodles. Who had the best pad Thai? That was an easy call. Pat would check the trash for egg shells — the vendor who had the most shells absolutely had the best version. An egg for each bowl is how it’s done. The dish Pat Chuskul ended up with, a light sauce from fresh tamarind, glows with memories 37 years later.
Around the time the Chuskul family opened their doors in 1982, the inside of the Bangkok Inn wasn’t exactly a showcase of groundbreaking design. There were mismatching shades of carpet and a leaky roof that blotched the ceiling tiles with water stains. Chuck, one of Joon and Pat Chuskul’s three kids, would insist that his dad fix the tiles. Joon’s a do-it-yourself kind of guy, as Chuck Chuskul tells it, so he’d find his dad taping, or driving screws into the ceiling, when the tiles began to collapse.
“You knew you came for the food, because there was nothing else you were coming for,” Chuck says with a laugh. He lights up when he talks about his family. “It’s always been about the food.”
Daisy Chuskul also spent time watching and learning from the best. She starts Mom’s recipe with fresh tamarinds, peeling and separating the husk from the seeds and soaking until they soften. Whenever Daisy and her brother visited other Thai joints, they’d ask, “Why is it red?” Was it paprika or tomato paste? The dish they grew up with had a light brown sauce.
Their pad Thai is memory and history you can taste. Chopped segments of green onion, pulverized peanuts and chiles toss with noodles in a tangy-sweet sauce. A spin of the fork, gathering peanuts and green onions like a tornado, gathers all the flavors to the core of the bite. It is, to state it simply, wonderful food. It’s loaded with salty crumbles, grassy crunch and humming heat.
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Same goes for the peanut chicken, a sensational, clinging dark sauce that could thaw a glacier from the blast of comfort. They have customers who have made the dish a routine for three decades.
Daisy Chuskul spends time in the kitchen, and her brother mans the podium out front. She imagines new dishes, and Chuck delivers food when the call comes in. That’s the way they like it. That’s the way it’ll be for now in a changing neighborhood, plus or minus delivery apps and few new dish ideas.
Are you looking for “authentic”? Authenticity is relative. A “real deal” dish, after all, is an arrow that lands truest when fired from a position of memory. It’s usually a bull's-eye if Grandma is involved. Am I a bad Sicilian if I grew up wolfing Rigatoni D at Maggiano's? If a memory is inspiring a great meal now, does it matter if it’s historically “accurate”? As you're reading this, Bangkok Inn is putting out more delicious pad Thai, whether it's the pad Thai you're familiar with or not, because it’s their memory.
Bangkok Inn, 6033 Oram St. (Lowest Greenville)