After Hours: Krung Siam in Tokyo
The best part of Tokyo’s Kichijoji Honcho neighborhood is the rabbit warren of alleys and lanes that conceals tiny boutiques, cozy restaurants and hole-in-the-wall bars.
So it takes a little searching to find Krung Siam restaurant, which took this quarter’s game of hide-and-seek even further by setting up shop in a basement. That might sound claustrophobic, but thanks to some astute touches with the decor — particularly a wall of mirrors that provides a sense of expanse — you won’t feel subterranean.
The eatery’s entrees are tasty, affordable and served quickly, particularly during lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Drop in on the weekend at about 1 p.m. and you’re likely to find an open table. There’s also seating for a dozen diners around a bar surrounding the open kitchen.
The atmosphere is laid back, with a wait staff that’s attentive when needed but otherwise invisible.
One wall holds photos of Thailand’s beloved king, including one in which he’s engaged in a conversation with a young Elvis Presley in his Army uniform.
Complimentary tea is served in tin cups, a nod to the style you find in popular street-food stalls throughout Thailand.
The lunch menu is limited to about 15 entrees, but there’s enough variety to satisfy varying taste buds.
Each entree comes with a bowl of tamarind shrimp soup and a fresh shrimp spring roll, which are served as appetizers. The soup is spicy and loaded with the tangy goodness of tamarind, a pod fruit native to Africa but now used extensively in Indian and Southeast Asian dishes.
If you’re as big a fan of tamarind as I am, you’ll probably taste this soup and think: “Entree, schmentree, all I need for lunch is more of this.”
Put the bowl down and take a few deep breaths.
This would be a good time to eat your fresh spring roll — veggies and shrimp wrapped in thin moistened rice paper. Krung Siam’s spring rolls are more Vietnamese style than Thai, but they are light and zesty.
I’ve tried most of the lunch entrees on several visits to the restaurant, and here, in descending order, are my top picks.
• Green Curry with Shrimp and Avocado ($12): Shrimp and curry are as unbeatable a team as Batman and Robin, but when you toss in chubby slices of avocado, well, it’s like Superman has joined the lineup. I’ve never found this dish in Thailand, so it could be a Krung Siam creation.
• Stir-fried Seafood in Curry Sauce ($12): Squid, shrimp and scallops in a thick, golden Thai-style curry.
• Fried Spicy Minced Chicken in Basil ($9.50): Luckily, this is served with a large mound of white rice, because this dish can make your eyes water. A liberal number of fresh basil leaves adds to the layer of flavors.
• Tom Yum Soup with Noodles ($9.50): A Thai-Japanese fusion, this bowl is infused with the essentials of this very popular hot and sour soup: lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and crushed chili peppers. The shrimp lie on a bed of noodles, which soak up the spiciness of the dish.
Address: Kojima Bldg., basement level, 1-8-24 Honcho Kichijoji, Musashino-shi, Tokyo
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch (no orders after 2:30); 5 p.m.-11 p.m. for dinner (no orders after 10), open every day.
Directions: Take the central north exit from Kichijoji station and cross the street. Look for the entrance to the long covered shopping arcade. Turn left onto the walking street just before the arcade entrance, right after passing the Perfect Suit Factory. Take a right into the first alley. Krung Siam is about 30 feet ahead to the left with a pink facade.
Prices: Lunch entrees, which come with soup, spring roll and rice, cost about $9 to $12. Dinner prices are slightly more.
Web: krungsiam.info/kichijouji.html (in Japanese).