Date Night: The Opal Thai “Experience”

I’ll admit, we are pretty lazy when it comes to driving all over the island, so we’ve only been to Haliewa on the North Shore a handful of times in the 2 years we’ve been here. Unless we’re spending the day there, it just isn’t worth it for a meal. Thus, we had never been to Opal Thai despite hearing good things about it from several friends.

So, when Opal Thai moved to Chinatown and our neighbor/friend (and longtime fan of Opal’s) chose there for her birthday dinner, we had to finally see what the fuss was about.

On the drive there, I was super excited, and began prattling on about all the dishes I had looked up on their menu ahead of time. My friend just laughed at me.

“You don’t get to order at Opal’s,” he said. “Opal Thai is not meal – it’s more of an experience.”

As a pretty adventurous person when it comes to food, I was stoked. I’ll try just about anything once, and Asian cuisine is a favorite of mine.

Once we got into the restaurant, seated, and drinks ordered (note: as of right now Opal is BYOB for booze, but they are working on obtaining their liquor license), Opal came to greet the table, immediately seizing the menus and removing them. Opal (which, from what I understand, is actually his real name) is the owner, head chef, and only waiter. He immediately recognized our friends and had handshakes and fist bumps to go around. Upon learning we were celebrating a birthday, he promised “something special” for the birthday girl, and that her husband, the other Opal veteran, could order whatever he wanted since he’d had everything before. He still insisted on Opal taking care of his order.

After that Opal turned to us newbies. First, he asked into name five Thai dishes, excluding Pad Thai and fried rice. Between the 4 of us (Babe and I and another couple), we came up with satisfactory answers. Next, he asked how spicy each of us preferred our food and if we had any allergies or dietary restrictions. Confirming all of this information, he swept off to the kitchen.

A short time later, Opal’s son, a teenager full of wit and a hilarious self-deprecating sense of humor, who is the food runner and busser, arrived with our first course: Spicy garlic glazed chicken wings with fried basil.

You guys. These were probably the best chicken wings I’ve ever had. They were hot and crispy with very little breading. The glaze was a little sweet and spicy (but not overwhelmingly so). The fried basil leaves were little treats all on their own. They were accompanied by a plate of sauteed eggplant and string beans which were quite tasty as well. I could have eaten about 3 more plates of just the wings, but I was wisely cautioned, “This is just the beginning.”

Next came the “lettuce cup salad” which is precisely that: A mixture of meat and pickled veggies with carrots and purple cabbage that you scoop into a “cup” made from a lettuce leaf. It was indescribably good. I honestly can’t even say which one we had. The menu has choices of larb, chicken, pork, or tofu. It could have been any of those and I would have devoured it all the same. We had two choices, a “mild” version and a spicy. Needless to say the mild version was spicy enough for this white girl.

The third course was, of course, the soup. I have no idea what, exactly, it was, but judging by the shrimp I believe it was Tom Kha Soup. This was my first experience with Tom Kha but I’d been told in the past that Tom Yum and Tom Kha soup were both excellent treatments for the common cold. Now I know why. The amount of spice in this soup was enough to clear out sinus crud from 3 years ago. But the flavor was amazing – sour and citrusy but also very savory.

Spicy shrimp soup

Here’s where things get tricky. Not having ordered our food, and being too busy stuffing our faces to ask questions, I’m not entirely sure what our main courses comprised of. I’ve deduced what I can using the menu, but your guess is as good as mine.

The first dish, I believe, was Chow Fun, which is beef and large, sort of squishy, flat noodles. It was delightful. Who doesn’t love big fat squishy noodles? Next we had a pad thai with shrimp. It was tasty and not overly greasy like some pad thai can be. Lastly we had two types of curry, one was the red and the birthday girl, I think, had the roasted tomato pineapple, but only Opal knows for sure. All was served with a nice pile of fried rice to help soak up those spices.

We were served all of the dishes at once and shared plates family style, which I always think makes for such a fun dinner experience. Everyone gets so excited to try each dish and to share their thoughts. It almost makes you forget you’re in a restaurant and transports you straight home, where you’re being fed by a loved one and sharing a meal with family (or framily, in this case).

Family style dining at Opal Thai

As we finished, Opal’s son cleared away the plates with more jokes around and Opal returned with a celebratory birthday shot to share with our guest of honor. There’s no better way to become family than to share food and spirits with someone.

In the end, we left stuffed, happy, and newly minted fans of Opal Thai. If you’re interested in some really delicious Thai food and you’re pretty adventurous when it comes to food, give them a visit. Leave your preconceived notions of how restaurant service should be, and just enjoy the experience!