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At Wilaiwan Kitchen in Montpelier, Authentic Thai Kicks Up the Spice

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BRENT HARREWYN
  • BRENT HARREWYN

On a subzero winter's day, a crowd gathered on the sidewalk outside 34 State Street in Montpelier. A young woman, underdressed in a skirt without tights, crossed her arms and legs, folding her body inward for warmth. Others tucked their noses into coat collars to keep Old Man Frost at bay.

Together, they shuffled slowly and without complaint toward the door of Wilaiwan's Kitchen. This lunchtime phenomenon happens every weekday from March through late December, when the restaurant is open.

Wilaiwan Phonjan-Azarian and Timothy Azarian - BRENT HARREWYN
  • BRENT HARREWYN
  • Wilaiwan Phonjan-Azarian and Timothy Azarian

The line, just a few blocks from the capitol, drew to a counter inside the storefront, where most customers picked up takeout boxes — and left. But there's a seating area, roughly the size of a generous walk-in closet, adorned with colorful pop-art portraits and quirky landscapes. Diners hunched over tables, tipping bowls of soup to their lips. Each of their exhaled breaths sent lemongrass-scented steam swirling through the air.

At the counter, co-owner Wilaiwan Phonjan-Azarian ladled soup into bowls and hurried beef salads onto plates. Other days, her husband, Timothy Azarian, mans the burners. The couple met decades ago while Azarian was living in Thailand. Their weekly changing menu is small — just three items — but the $9 to $10 portions easily make two meals. It's a format that's remained unchanged since the pair traded their beloved Thai street cart for this brick-and-mortar location in 2012.

Location Details Wilaiwan's Kitchen
34 State St.
Barre/Montpelier
Montpelier, VT
802-505-8111
closed: Sat., Sun.
Thai

The bill of fare represents their ongoing collaboration. Some dishes, such as herbaceous mincemeat salads with mint and chile, represent the Laotian influence of Wilaiwan's northeastern Thailand homeland. Others, such as an egg-topped pad krapow stir-fry, are favored by Timothy.

In a bowl of tom kha ban, thin cuts of chicken swam in rich broth kissed with ginger and tamarind. A plate of yam nua — shaved beef tossed with crisp onions, cilantro, celery and tomato — was so garlicky that it warmed the eater, despite being served cool.

BRENT HARREWYN
  • BRENT HARREWYN

Pepper-phobes, beware: The chefs add chiles to everything. Their cooking stays true to its Pacific Rim roots, so you won't find tepid, Americanized pad Thai here. During colder months, the heat is just what you need after the chill of the sidewalk wait.

So is eating shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers in tight quarters — a trademark of casual dining throughout Asia.

This article was originally published in 7 Nights: The Seven Days Guide to Vermont Restaurants & Bars in April 2017.

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