Norman has what feels like more than its fair share of Thai restaurants—eight, by my last count, which is about one Thai restaurant for every 15,000 people, or one Thai restaurant for every McDonald’s in Norman, and those seem like they’re everywhere. There are eight, and I have been to all of them...the Thai restaurants, not the other thing. (I have been to two of those, if you’re curious.)
In Oklahoma, at least, pad thai may be the litmus test by which we measure our Thai restaurants. I don’t blame us, first because the intricacies of a foreign cuisine are a lot to take on for a casual diner, and also because if there is a culinary trinity somewhere claiming to be holier than fish sauce (the salty), tamarind (the sour), and palm sugar (the sweet), then I invite that trinity to TAKE THIS OUTSIDE. So odds are, if you’re reading a food blog at all, you know your pad thai well enough for me to breeze right past it for the purposes of this noodle blog.
The first thing I order at any Thai place is pad see ew, because I’m a sucker for whatever dish has the widest, chewiest noodles available, all charred with that wok hei…but I digress. I’m here to noodle-enlighten, and I think there are probably a lot of people who’ve never tried khao soi.
Fellow writer James Nghiem composed his own exaltation of Thai Delight’s version of khao soi, just north of Campus Corner, two years ago. That is the Thai place I go most often because it’s reaaaaaaaaaaally close to my office and almost as close to my house. But out of respect for my friend, former employee, and sometimes drummer James, I went what felt like 8,000 miles west, all the way across I-35 (actual distance: three miles from my house), to one of Norman’s lesser-known Thai places, Chada Thai.
The restaurant is located in a supremely weird shopping center, in the same spot as the long-closed Jana’s Restaurant, which was a combination Italian and Thai restaurant, and that didn’t make any more sense when you ate there as it does when you’re reading about it now. Chada Thai is bright and airy, with a small dining room and tall, white booths along one wall, great for dining alone and/or discreetly taking phone photos of your food without attracting attention to yourself. If that’s what you’re into.
I ordered their khai soi, listed on the menu as “Northern Thai style noodle soup (kao soi),” spice level four of five. It’s a thick coconut curry broth served with soft egg noodles, onions, bell pepper, bamboo shoot slivers, and a large pile of crispy, fried egg noodles in a nest on top, sprinkled with sliced scallion. I’m beginning to suspect it’s hard to make this dish badly given the basic ingredient list, but Chada Thai’s take is really good judged on its own merits: plenty of vegetables and your chosen protein, flecks of dried chile creating a subtle spice that builds with every bite, leaving me kind of sniffly even though I was disappointed in the heat at first taste. I was wrong.
And, I have to admit, the angel hair-thin egg noodles at Chada Thai were much easier to manage with a fork and spoon than the thicker egg noodles I’ve seen in other restaurants.
At Chada Thai, the khao soi is sweeter than the same dish at both Thai Delight and Main Street Norman staple Sweet Basil, and I’d recommend going up one notch on your usual spice order to counter that sweetness if that’s not your thing. The soup is often served (though not this time) with lime wedges, pickled mustard greens, and raw shallot or red onion, all of which would’ve gone a long way in interrupting that sweetness. I got a welcome salty kick from the dipping sauce that came with my fried dumplings, a free offering likely sent my way because I came during an unusually slow lunch service.
At any rate, it was at once homey and complicated, and now that I know the ins and outs of their secret curry broth recipe, I can ask for what I need to adjust to my particular palate.