Blink and you can easily miss the little white house as you drive down Park Street in Hartford’s Parkville section. So keep an eye out, because it’s home to a fine family business specializing in Thai and Lao dishes—generous portions, reasonably priced. And if you head east of the river, you’ll find the exact same menu and great food in Manchester.
There are many choices closer to home when it comes to Thai, but when the craving hits, I make tracks for King & I. It’s changed management over time, but the food remains just as delicious as it ever was. In fact, it’s amazingly consistent. How is that even possible?
The secret to their success starts in a tiny kitchen with their cook. Behind the scenes, the same woman has been busy stirring up deliciousness for the past 10 years. When the previous owner sold the restaurant four and a half years ago, Hongkham Munesaleum was already part of the kitchen. But now, with her husband, Lam, washing dishes, and his daughter Lilly, serving the front of the house (literally!), it’s all in the family. And over in Manchester, Lam’s daughter Michelle is a one-woman show, skillfully cooking everything to order with a smile, as well as serving and answering the phone for takeout since she opened back in the summer of 2014.
In either location, it’s the kind of place where you might find yourself chatting with folks at the next table. Or where a couple sends over a beer to thank you for keeping an eye on their stuff while they step out to buy a six-pack of Singha. King & I makes no pretense of fanciness or frills. But they’re focused on serving fresh Thai and Lao dishes that are the real deal.
“This is authentic Thai. I don’t want to mess with the flavors, ingredients. My stepmother does it with all her heart,” Lilly explains. “This is what she loves to do—to feed people and cook.” And she does it very well. Fridays and Saturday nights are busiest. “People had to wait outside in their cars 30 minutes just to get a seat on Friday night.” Thirsty Thursdays are also quite busy. Did I mention King & I Thai is BYOB?
If you love crab Rangoon, don’t miss the crab bags. These little "purses" are stuffed generously with cream cheese, crab and carrots, then fried and served with a sweet dipping sauce.
Thai egg rolls are filled with silver noodles (a.k.a. glass noodles or mung bean vermicelli), shredded carrot, cabbage and taro, then fried and served with pineapple sauce.
And tom-ka is another excellent option—coconut soup with choice of chicken, vegetable, tofu, shrimp or seafood, then all the usual vegetable suspects. The portion is generous enough to share, so ask for two spoons if you’d like to explore more of the menu.
Curry lovers can pick from red, yellow, green, Massaman, panang or jungle curry with choice of protein. Red curry is a personal favorite. Thinly sliced tender pork is spiked with heat you’ll feel on the first bite, combined with the sweetness of coconut milk and all the colors of the rainbow: red bell pepper, carrots, zucchini, Chinese eggplant, string beans and bamboo shoots.
“She cooks everything with one wok—everything! And she gets it done on time,” Lilly says with pride, describing her stepmom. “I’m like, can you just relax? On Sundays, we’re closed. But she’ll come down at 8:00, start cutting stuff—not for us! She’s prepping for the next day. She doesn’t stop. This is what she wants. This is her lair.”
Top sellers include papaya salad, drunken noodles, kai ka prow, basil stir-fry and red curry. Lilly tells me kai ka prow is like the Thai version of larb. And both are on my list of frequently ordered items.
The contrasts in flavor, temperature and textures make larb something to go back for time and again. The crispy iceberg lettuce with thick slices of cucumber and fresh mint leaves provide a welcome contrast to the sneaky heat of Thai hot pepper in warm ground chicken over sticky rice.
Then, its Thai partner, kai ka prow, is another must-try for heat seekers: minced ground chicken with fresh garlic, chili paste, red bell peppers and chopped green beans with basil leaves.
Keeping on the hot track, chicken with basil leaves is oh-so-nicely spiced.
Anywhere along the way, Thai iced coffee is available to help cool you down. Or Thai iced tea, if you prefer.
If you’ve saved room for sweetness, there’s warm coconut sticky rice with fresh mango.
Or the ever-popular fried bananas--thin egg roll wrappers stuffed with banana, fried, then drizzled with honey. [
From beginning to end, every last bite is flavorful and made with care. You’ll find friendly service in a warm, homey atmosphere that echoes the vibe of the little white house where it all began.
King & I Thai Kitchen is located at 1901 Park Street in Hartford, CT, and 341 East Center Street in Manchester, CT.
Hartford: (860) 232-5471
Manchester: (860) 432-8271