Travel to Thailand and you’ll find a lively late night scene and a wide range of restaurants which stay open well beyond the dinner hour. In fact, unlike most places in the U.S., eating late in cities like Bangkok is likely more the rule than the exception.
But you don’t have to travel far to get a taste of Thailand thanks to a new late night menu at West Milwaukee’s Spicy Tuna, 4823 W. National Ave.
Spicy Tuna might be best known for the artistic presentation of their sushi, which features the whimsical art of sushi chef Jeff "Jab" Phoochangthong. But co-owner Kheskanya Sangkratok says it’s been a goal to introduce guests to the flavors of their Thai backgrounds as well.
"In Thailand, we have so many delicious street foods and a variety of dishes that are popular for eating late at night," she explains. "There are very few places in this area that serve late night food, and virtually no Asian restaurants that do. So we wanted to introduce people to the traditional
Sangkratok says the late night offering is meant to appeal to a broad range of guests, from industry folks who’d like to grab a bite to eat after their shifts to guests enjoying a night on the town. As for Milwaukeeans who moved to the area from Thailand, she says it might just offer up a taste of home.
Late night Thai
The late night menu, which is available Thursday through Saturday beginning at 9 p.m., is comprised of nearly 20 dishes that run the gamut from snacks and plates made for nibbling to grilled meats and soul-warming soups, perfect for the post-drinking crowd. All of them fall squarely in the category of kap klaem, a Thai phrase which translates literally as "drinking food" and is often used to describe the Thai equivalent of tapas.
"We made these dishes with the same flavors we would use at home," says Sangkratok. "We made some things a little less spicy, but we kept the flavors the same because we want to introduce people to the authentic Thai food."
Among the options, guests will find shareable plates including deep fried Thai chicken wings served with both tamarind and sweet and sour sauces ($7); grilled squid served with spicy Thai seafood sauce ($13); tub waan, marinated pork liver with mint leaves and spicy lime juice ($11.50); and flavorful thinly sliced marinated grilled pork served with a sweet, sour and slightly spicy tamarind sauce (nam jim jaew) for dipping ($12).
You’ll also find fried beef balls or deep fried Thai sour pork sausage served with cabbage, ginger and peanut sauce ($7/$8) or delightfully chewy sweet and salty Thai style beef jerky, perfect for snacking alongside a cold beer. It’s served with a duo tamarind sauce and sweet and sour sauce for dipping ($8).
Meanwhile, there’s big flavor to be found in dishes like yum woon sen, a glass noodle salad with shirmp, ground pork, tomatoes, onions, celery, lime and chilies ($12); num tok, a fresh bright salad featuring marinated grilled pork with toasted rice powder and basil sauced in a spicy lime juice sauce ($12) and pla koong, a Thai style shrimp salad that’s sweet, sour and spicy with prominent notes of fresh lemongrass ($14, pictured).
But the king of kap klaem might well be found in the tum trad, a large shareable platter of green papaya salad surrounded by various bites that are traditionally enjoyed with it. Among the assortment you’ll find a Thai fried chicken wing, pork meatballs, strips of steamed pork sausage, preserved eggs, salt cured eggs, rice noodles, morning glory leaves, fresh cabbage, Thai eggplant and lime to kick up the sour factor ($34).
The platter, says Sangkratok, represents the Thai style of eating, taking bites of items in combination with one another, creating new flavor profiles and textural experiences.
The papaya salad itself is moderately spicy, made with green papaya, garlic, chilies, tomatoes, Thai eggplant, long beans, acacia seeds and lime, plus tiny salted black "rice field" crabs, which are edible (some enjoy eating them, shell and all), but commonly plucked out of the dish.
The remainder of the platter provides an adventurous combination of ingredients that showcase the flavors inherent to Thai snacking: salty, sweet, and savory. The textures are varied and include crisp cabbage, soft, gelatinous preserved eggs and sticky soft rice noodles that beg to be eaten out of hand with a scoop of papaya salad.
And, if a bowl of soup is what you’re craving, you’ll find it in spades. There’s pho featuring sliced beef and beef meatballs ($11) tom yum noodle soup ($12) and and three types of ramen (tonkotosu, beef and seafood, priced $12-16).
You’ll also find the lesser known, Tom Zapp, a hot and sour soup that showcases the classic Thai flavor combination of lemongrass, chilies and lime leaf along with boiled pork ribs ($12).
Spicy Tuna’s is enriched with Thai toasted rice powder made by slowly toasting dry, raw sticky rice in a pan and grinding it into a coarse powder. The rice powder gives the soup a nutty, roasted complexity.
Spicy Tuna is open Monday through Wednesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday 11-10. The late night menu is available on Thursday nights from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Friday and Saturday evenings from 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.