Everything you need to know about the new Kalaya Thai restaurant in Philadelphia
The new Kalaya, located where Kensington and Fishtown meet, has a bar, a more expansive menu, and about four times the seating.
The new iteration of chef Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon’s popular Kalaya Thai restaurant is a week from opening on the Kensington-Fishtown border, where it will join a collection of Philadelphia’s hottest new restaurants.
Her original Kalaya, a BYOB in Bella Vista, closed Oct. 1 to facilitate the move. At this restaurant — about four times the capacity of the original — Suntaranon is partnered with Defined Hospitality, which also owns Suraya, Pizzeria Beddia, R&D Cocktail Bar, and Condesa and its bar, El Techo.
There’s a bar this time.
Fast facts about Kalaya
The name: Kalaya. Pronounce it “kah-lay-YAH.” It’s the chef’s mother’s name.
The chef: Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon. Her nickname is pronounced “Nook.” She was a flight attendant who opened an Italian restaurant in Bangkok in 2003 and moved to Philadelphia with her husband, Ziv Katalan, in 2010. She graduated from French Culinary Institute in Manhattan in 2011 with a degree in French cuisine, interning with Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
The new location: 4 W. Palmer St., a half-block from Stephen Starr’s LMNO, between Front Street and Frankford Avenue.
Opening date: Nov. 29, 2022.
Reservations: Via Resy, 30 days in advance, for parties of one to eight.
The backstory: Kalaya opened in April 2019 at 764 S. Ninth St., on the food-rich Bella Vista block that is also home to Ralph’s Italian Restaurant, Sarcone’s Bakery, and Angelo’s Pizzeria. It was an instant BYOB hit and survived the pandemic with a streetery.
The awards: A Craig LaBan favorite from the start, it was named Esquire’s Best New Restaurant in America in 2020, a James Beard Foundation finalist for Best New Restaurant in 2020, and one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Restaurants in America in 2020. Suntaranon was a finalist for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic at the 2022 James Beard Awards.
» READ MORE: Craig LaBan's trip to Thailand with "Nok" Suntaranon
The partners: Suntaranon and Defined Hospitality (Suraya, Pizzeria Beddia, R&D Cocktail Bar, Condesa/El Techo), whose partners include Greg Root, Al Lucas, and chef Nick Kennedy.
The new restaurant’s features: 145 seats, full bar, architectural design by Stokes Architecture.
Hours: Open for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, with service extended until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
The menu: Suntaranon has expanded what she offered at the original Kalaya, and added several dishes brought back from a recent culinary inspiration visit to Thailand, as Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan and photographer Monica Herndon tagged along. (LaBan’s impressions: “What I encountered — infinitely varied, intricately layered, and powered by deep currents of fermented savor, sourness, and heady jolts of herbal spice — was brighter and more intense than anything I’d ever tasted in Thai restaurants in Philadelphia, aside from Kalaya.”) At the new restaurant, every curry and spice blend is made in-house. Desserts by Defined Hospitality’s James Matty, whose work is also featured at Suraya and Condesa, include durian sticky rice and three varieties of shaved ice.
The interior: Katherine Lundberg, owner of Briquette Studio, says she decided to embrace this character-rich former warehouse with an open design. In a statement, Lundberg said she aimed to reflect postmodern influences with a subtle nod to the colonial architectural motifs of Southeast Asia through custom metal and glass doors. The vaulted wood ceiling is interrupted by a large skylight, sunning the focal point to a trio of 14-foot Adonidia palms. Large-scale and energetic abstract paintings by acclaimed female artist Be Chanida were imported from Thailand. The dining room’s backdrop features louvers that frame the activity of the open kitchen.
The bar setup: Full bar program, with 14 seats available at the bar for cocktails and full-menu dining. The cocktail list is made up of names of female characters in Thai folklore and popular culture, and was created by Aaron Deary and the team from R&D. Ingredients and flavors used in the kitchen are carried over into variations of classic cocktails. The wine list features mostly natural wines that are organic, biodynamic, and sustainable, with 10 wines by the glass, and 22 total including bottles. Four beers are on draft, with four beers available by the bottle. Dessert cocktails, zero-proof cocktails, beer slushies, and Thai sodas will be available, as will a “ya dong.”
Ya dong? It’s a variation of a street shot found in Bangkok, crafted into a cocktail with herbs, spices, and funky flavors.