Hale‘iwa’s Opal Thai Now Open in Chinatown
Bringing fresh Thai cuisine to old Scratch location.
Opal Thai opened in Chinatown last Friday, starting with a small lunch for friends and family. From left, shrimp pad thai, Drunken Noodles with freshly made Shanghai noodles and a light ginger-coconut curry with chicken and rice.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
“You like spicy, yeah?”
I don’t even have time to answer when a bowl of hung lay curry, a Burmese-style stew with braised pork, appears in front of me.
“You’ll like it.”
I always do. Whatever Sanith “Opel” Sirichandhra, owner of Opal Thai, sends out to me, I eat. (Yes, the restaurant is a twist on his name, just spelled differently.)
What Sirichandhra served me.
I’ve been devouring his Thai food since he first opened a food truck in Hale‘iwa with his wife, Manudsavee, 11 years ago. In 2011, Sirichandhra ditched the truck and moved into a brick-and-mortar space in the Hale‘iwa Town Center, and I followed him there, too. It was worth the drive to the North Shore for the kind of authentic, delicious Thai food Sirichandhra serves.
So, to say I was excited to hear about Opal Thai moving to Chinatown, literally within walking distance from the office, would be a total understatement.
I squealed out loud.
Sirichandhra, 46, opened the restaurant in the space vacated by Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop on Smith Street. (Scratch opened a second location in April at South Shore Market, then sold the Chinatown space in August.)
The new, 1,350-square-foot space is almost double the size of the Hale‘iwa restaurant, seating about 50 people at tables and a dozen more at an L-shaped counter facing the open kitchen. The menu is largely the same—pad thai noodles, tom yum soup, pineapple fried rice—with Sirichandhra’s specials, including sautéed eggplant and string beans ($12), roasted chili shrimp ($15) and fresh crab meat fried rice ($14). He’s planning on serving Thai-style tapas and setting up a noodle bar. And he’s working on a liquor license to serve quality beer, wine and sake, and a few craft cocktails. (The Hale‘iwa restaurant was BYOB only.)
Thai food can get monotonous, especially in Hawai‘i. What I love about Sirichandhra’s style of cooking is that he blends the cuisine of Northern Thailand (where his wife is from) with the dishes he grew up eating in Bangkok. He uses fresh ingredients when possible and strikes that subtle balance sweet, salty, spicy and sour.
Sirichandhra and his wife, Manudsavee, in the kitchen of their new location in Chinatown.
The event featured a noodle bar where you could choose your own sauces and ingredients. This is something Sirichandhra wants to introduce at this new location.
Sirichandhra wanted to move out of Hale‘iwa because of recent changes to the beachy neighborhood. “For me, it was perfect being up there in the beginning,” says Sirichandhra, who grew up in the big cities of Bangkok and San Francisco. “Haleʻiwa had its own soul.”
Now, it feels too crowded and too focused on tourists. It’s just not the same, he explains.
He and his wife, who still live in Waialua, had been looking for a space in town for years. When Sirichandhra saw this vacant space on Smith Street, he knew immediately that this was it.
“It wasn’t too big, it was contemporary, clean and simple,” he says. “It’s very open. I just want to do what I’ve been doing.”
The door chimes and Sirichandhra, wearing a T-shirt with the word “aloha” on his chest, instinctively gets up, greets the man who wandered in with a handshake and a takeout menu.
“I’m Opel,” he says, smiling. “What’s your name?”
The two start chatting. Sirichandhra tells the customer he’s not open yet but encourages him to come back tomorrow. “You like Thai food? You eat spicy? Come back and I make you something you like.”
1030 Smith St., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner from 5 to 10 p.m., (808) 637-7950, opalthai.com