Pinto Garden began on Christopher Street in 2006 and moved to its current location on 10th Street a decade later. Stepping inside the fairly new, intimate space, the Manhattan Sideways team was greeted by chef and owner, Yo Teerawong. After a few minutes of conversation with Chef Yo in the covered backyard secret oasis, we quickly learned that his goal with Pinto was specifically not to create a typical Thai restaurant, but rather to design an environment that looks and feels more like one is in one's own home. Sitting in the garden, Luke, a summer intern, began to notice a particular decorative pattern: rabbits. From tiny porcelain statues along the shelves to the wallpaper in the restrooms and the illustrations on the menus, an eclectic collection of rabbit-themed artwork permeated the space. Chef Yo explained that this is a subtle reference to his personal background, as his mother was born in the Thai Year of the Rabbit, as was the current King of Thailand. Chef Yo, himself, immigrated to the U. S. twenty years ago from Bangkok. When he became interested in learning to cook, his good friend, who trained in the kitchens of Jean Georges, taught him the craft. Yo told us that he had the pleasure of befriending another well known chef, Thomas Keller, many years ago. As a matter of fact, Chef Yo admitted that it was Mr. Keller who suggested that he try to create a "home" when designing Pinto. Yo then laughed, saying, "I now refer to Pinto Garden as my vacation home. "Subversion of presumptions plays into Chef Yo’s menu as well. “I want to take out any expectation for a specific type of cuisine - there’s more to ethnic food in New York City than that. ” He notes that while many will anticipate typical spicy pad dishes with plenty of fish sauce, he prefers to develop his menu based on what is available at the farmer's market in Union Square, all the while imagining the smells and flavors of his mother’s cooking from growing up in Thailand. "What I enjoy best is recreating these tastes of traditional Thai cuisine while adding my own flare. " One example that he cited was replacing strawberry with rhubarb. The result is wholly original. He remarked, “Even some of my Thai friends come in and say ‘Oh, I’ve never heard of that. ’”In the middle of our chat, Chef Yo stood up and announced that he was now going into the kitchen to cook for us. It did not take long for him to present several interesting and beautifully plated dishes. Included was crab fried rice served inside of a coconut topped with egg, a salad of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, mint, chili jam, and roasted peanut artfully arranged inside a banana blossom and wild mushroom salad with a spicy lime dressing. Each plate combined flavors, perhaps reminiscent of Thai food, but certainly set far apart from what any of us were used to eating. Before leaving, Chef Yo added that he was looking forward to mixing traditional and trendy in his new brunch menu, which will include typical American items with a Thai twist, such as chicken and lemongrass waffles.
Nestled among the charming area that is Korea Town, is an eatery with a dual-personality. By day, the business exists as Cup & Cup, an artsy cafe that serves affordable fusion lunch dishes, artistically inserted into giant teacups, and smooth, rich coffee. At night, the same area morphs into Take 31, a dimly lit lounge area, with live music, succulent dinner dishes and a cool, hip vibe. The menu is made of classic Korean dishes with a twist. The dishes are inspired by Japanese, Italian and Mexican cuisine and cater to vegetarians, meat-lovers and those in between. South Korean owner, Kihyun Lee, studied fashion design at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in NYC, and merged his love of authentic Asian food and passion for modern art into each dish. He revived this space in 2011 with the help of his friends. On our afternoon visit, we tried their classic bowl artfully filled with mushrooms, minced beef, rice, chopped egg and carrotsCup & Cup, its daytime persona, was introduced a year and a half after opening Take31. The airy rooms feel clean, with minimal lines. The shelves along the walls are carefully decorated with quirky, vintage memorabilia, but do not feel cluttered. A table with an ice-water cooler is stationed in the middle, for easy access. One statement wall is entirely dedicated to a blueprint of the space, delicately and organically painted by the architects at work. While much of the design is fresh, brightly colored Lego pieces are playfully juxtaposed throughout. Some of those Lego pieces are even inserted within the wall's low-hanging light fixtures and plastered near the giant window at the entrance. During the day, Cup & Cup offers patrons with a few hours dedicated to "Study Time, " as business professionals and students quietly sip green tea lattes and munch on noodles, while using the Wi-Fi connection. At night, locals flock in when the sun goes down, as dinner, drinks and music serves a different, yet equally, artsy crowd.
For Hell's Kitchen locals, it's the former home of Pam Real Thai – but for sisters Sommy and Mo Hensawang, every detail of their new Thai restaurant LumLum evokes a childhood memory — right down to its name. “LumLum is slang from the Northern part of Thailand for ‘delicious’, ” explained co-owner Sommy, known as So. “It’s catchy and it’s a reference to where we grew up. ” So and Mo spent their childhoods in the central province of Ayutthaya, about 50 miles north of capital city Bangkok. Their mother and grandmother owned and operated a popular seafood restaurant called Khao Tom Tor Rung, known throughout the area for its high quality dishes and convivial, 24-hour atmosphere. “We grew up watching our grandma and mom run this restaurant, where it was a combination of some street food and some more traditional seafood classics, all served until the late hours of the evening, like a lot of restaurants in Thailand. They also had a karaoke bar, which is a popular feature in a lot of local restaurants, ” So said. So and Mo have now created their own version of their family’s restaurant, hoping to combine the lively, communal vibe of Khao Tom Tor Rung with the relaxed ambiance of their favorite beaches in Phuket and Hawaii. “Our decor is more like a combination of Phuket and Waikiki beach-style, ” said So. “We have bamboo lining the walls and the lighting fixtures, and posters of different places in both Thailand and Hawaii — we want to create a mix between Hawaiian and Thai culture. ”While the sisters shared decision making in regards to the space’s design, when it came to planning the menu, “Mo is the chef” said So. “All of the ingredients, all of the recipes are from my mom and grandma and from the area in Thailand that we grew up in, but my sister tests and prepares them, ” she added. “I mean, I can cook, but I'm not as good. She’s the best! ”There is an ease to working as a family unit, said So, who explained that their shared memories of their mother’s restaurant have helped the sisters work through what they want their own culinary legacy to be. “My sister supports me, and I support her, ” said So. “It’s how we grew up — we stick together, and are stronger together. ” After opening their first restaurant on the Upper East Side (the sisters took over Pro Thai Comfort Food on Lexington Ave and E101st St from a previous owner), both So and Mo found it an easy decision to set their next venture in Hell’s Kitchen. LumLum takes up the legacy of the much-beloved Pam Real Thai Food on W49th Street west of 9th Avenue, which closed at the start of the pandemic. While So moved to the city from San Francisco during COVID and didn’t get a chance to meet the team at Pam Real Thai, she was sad to hear of so many cherished neighborhood mainstays that had closed. “I have several friends who run businesses in the city who have had to shut down, it’s been really hard to see. ” But taking over Pro Thai was a completely different experience, said So, “since we had all of the knowhow and knowledge from the previous owner. ” With LumLum, “we had to start from scratch, ” but the two found no better place to do so than in Hell’s Kitchen. “There’s so much going on here — between locals and tourists, we knew that opening in this neighborhood would be a game changer, ” said So. The time was right, she added, to open a brand-new Thai restaurant with a focus on the region’s traditional ingredients. “We felt like we couldn’t find any entire restaurants like Khao Tom Tor Rung in New York City, specifically that served authentic Thai ingredients, ” said So. “I know that many restaurants say ‘Oh, this is authentic, our food is the real thing. ’ But we really take pride in our authenticity. For example, take Pad Thai — most restaurants use scallion, which you’d never find in Pad Thai in Thailand. We use dried shrimp, which is very hard to find here, as well as chives instead of scallion, which is traditional to the dish. ” She believes that attention to detail is vital to experiencing the region’s dishes as they were meant to taste. “We focus on the details — Thai green pepper and lemongrass instead of bell pepper in Drunken Noodles, the use of fish sauce, Thai herbs like tamarind — so that every dish is authentic to how we grew up, ” said So. Recipes with even more meaning are those like their grandmother’s Muk Tom Nam Dum soup, a squid and egg layered specialty that Mo and So are happy to pass on to new diners. “We want them to taste the memory, and our culture, ” So explained. Many locals have already ventured over, eager to try the Hensawang sisters’ family recipes. “We had a soft opening this week and we were already at capacity — I’m overwhelmed by the response, ” said So. “We’ve had people in the neighborhood come by during construction to ask us about opening, a bunch of our neighbors coming by to say, ‘We want to support you, we would love to come by. ’ People in the area never stop surprising me with how much they want to help and support local businesses. It’s beyond exciting. ” So attributes this loyalty to the city’s foodie culture, and both she and Mo are thrilled to join the ranks of the Hell’s Kitchen culinary landscape for years to come. “There are so many businesses in the neighborhood that have been here for years — a bakery that’s been here for 20 years, a restaurant that’s been on the corner for 10 years. We are so grateful for the community here, ” she said. “It’s New York — you can just feel the energy. ” This story originally appeared in W42ST. nyc on April 23, 2022 as: Sisters So and Mo Bring Delicious Real Thai Food Back to Pam’s Old Spot with LumLum