Norman is a foreign country to me.
I’ve lived in Oklahoma my entire life and the one place it never occured to me to live was in Norman, home to the University of Oklahoma and, therefore, a place where my powers are at their weakest.
Imagine Superman on a planet made of kryptonite, orbiting a red sun. Now imagine being someone who understands that statement trying to attract a human woman. That is how difficult it would be for me to live in Norman.
My parents are graduates of Oklahoma State University, as am I. And while they are avid fans and followers of OSU’s various sporting teams, I do not actually care very much. If OSU wins, I think, “Hey, that’s nice.” And if they lose, I think, “Aw, too bad.” And if I don’t know they’re playing, well, that’s most of the time.
I do not hide my affiliation with OSU. It’s a fine school and I’m proud I went there. I’ve known many people who attended OU and feel the same about their alma mater. I’ve also known people from both schools who behave like jackasses whenever confronted by the mere fact that someone attended the other school and doesn’t spend their lives weeping because of their choices.
Most people in Norman (and Stillwater, for that matter) are not like this. But the concentrations of jerks who viscerally hate the other school and anyone who went there and can’t shut up about it are higher in those cities than elsewhere.
So I don’t spend a lot of time in Norman, but when I’m there, I try my best to find the good food. And while I was down there picking up a deeply discounted kitchen tool for a future feature, I decided to stop in a decidedly unhip shopping center far from the campus to try some Thai food.
Best. Decision. Ever.
Well, probably not the best decision. But it was good and I was happy with it and I let hyperbole take hold. My apologies.
That said, let me tell you why I’m willing to drive back into the lions' den for Chada Thai.
“Tell me about the ‘American Fried Rice’,” I asked the server.
There is something kind of wonderful about seeing how the world views us from the outside and American Fried Rice ($14.50) is a funhouse mirror of our cuisine that really ought to make you think about how our versions of various countries’ foods actually stack up.
Also called Chada Thai Fried Rice, this dish is a stir-fry of rice, egg, onions, ketchup, tomatoes, carrots, peas, raisins and cilantro, topped with a fried egg, fried hot dog and a fried chicken drumstick.
And before you get offended, please understand that this is one of the owner’s favorite dishes, requested because it was a favorite at school in Thailand.
Another only-at-Chada dish I fell hard for was the yellow curry paste stir fry, which I got with shrimp ($16).
Thai curries are some of the most popular dishes because of the rich blend of spices and the sweet, smooth coconut milk. This dish had a lovely sweet-spicy mix and some nice green flavors. The egg gives the dish body and soaks up the flavors, which enrobe each perfectly cooked, juicy shrimp.
I was joined once for lunch by Jonathan Fowler, the King of Norman, who got the pad thai ($8.50 lunch/$10.50 dinner) and had no complaints. About the food, at least. He was none-too-happy that I tricked him into having lunch with me, but that’s what you get for not reading the fine print on the contract.
As much as I love pad thai, my heart will always belong to pad see ew ($8.50 lunch/$10.50 dinner) — a big old plate of thick noodles, veggies and (in this case) beef stir fried in soy sauce. The mild sweetness and salty flavor coats the noodles and makes them sticky. It’s such a filling, deeply satisfying dish. The beef was cut into perfect little bites. Taste and texture were right on. I’m not even hungry right now and I’m craving another plate.
If your preference is for rice, the garlic beef stir fry ($12) is an excellent choice. The sauteed beef melds with the onions, peppers and garlic to create a lovely sauce, just waiting to be soaked up by the rice. This is a great dish to amp up the heat on, but even if you’re spice-averse, you’ll love this blend of flavors.
Go with a crowd? That’s a great reason to order the Northern Thai style one-bite wraps ($7.50). Or you can eat them all by yourself, like a monster...which I did.
You get flat pieces of collard greens topped with dried shrimp, chunks of red onions, bits of fresh ginger and lime, toasted coconut and peanuts which you then drizzle with the house sweet sauce. I got a tiny dish of fresh chopped Thai chilies to add to mine and
That was some good stuff. I’ve always avoided dried shrimp in the past, but I’m on board from here on out.
For dessert, I cannot recommend the mango sweet sticky rice ($5.50) highly enough. Warm black rice is served with slices of ripe mango and crunchy mung beans for a flavor so addictive, I couldn’t stop eating despite being very full. There was no way I could let a single bite of this go to waste. It’s such an amazing balance of textures, temperatures and flavors. Really a masterclass in unconventional desserts.
And that's it. I'm definitely going to be exploring Norman's restaurants further in the near future, but it's going to be hard to resist returning to Chada Thai each time I roll into town. If you live nearby, don't bother buying a lottery ticket — you've used up your allotment of good luck.