The hottest Thai food in Miami is on Calle Ocho

Lung Yai Thai Tapas photo by Linda Bladholm for the Miami Herald
Lung Yai Thai Tapas photo by Linda Bladholm for the Miami Herald

Lung Yai Thai Tapas is the real deal, serving food just as you’d find in Thailand. It even has a short section of northern Thai dishes, listed under chef’s recommendations, that you won’t find anywhere else nearby. 

Chef-owner Veenuthtapong “Bas” Trisransri transformed a Cuban coffee shop on Calle Ocho into a small, simple, modern spot with a wood and corrugated-tin counter and an outdoor courtyard where you sit under strings of light bulbs. 

Condiments include jars of green chile vinegar, coarse chile powder and sugar, but this food is authentically hot and spicy to start (boxes of Kleenex are on every table). 

Chef Bas (his dad loves basketball) grew up in Bangkok but spent weekends with his grandparents in Ayutthaya. It was the old capital of the Kingdom of Siam, sacked by the Burmese in 1767, when the capital moved to Bangkok. 

The grandparents ran a restaurant and taught Bas to cook. Lung Yai is named for Bas’ grandfather, whose image is the logo for the eatery. 

Bas came to Miami to join his older brother Bond and an uncle who ran Sushi Rock in South Beach, where he worked when he was a student at Miami Dade College, studying sound engineering. He ended up working at China Grill and his brother’s restaurant, Bonding, in Brickell.

A highlight at Bas’ place is khao soi coconut curry noodle soup. Khao soi, meaning cut rice, as in the old days when thin sheets of steamed rice dough were rolled up and cut into strips with scissors. It is from Chaing Mai in northern Thailand near the border of Myanmar (formerly Burma). 

The food is believed to have roots in the cuisine of Chinese Muslims or Jeen Haw from Yunnan province in southern China, who in the 18th and 19th centuries plied a trade route by mule-drawn caravans through Burma, northern Thailand and Laos, some settling along the way.

There is a version of the soup in Burma they picked up called hkauk hswe (pronounced khao soi). 

The version here is based on a complex pounded paste made with Southeast Asian aromatics such as kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass and ginger, spices, turmeric, dried red chiles and shrimp paste with coconut milk, flat egg noodles and a choice of beef or chicken garnished with chile powder, pickled mustard greens and a crown of crispy fried egg noodles. 

Another northern dish is larb muang, a Lanna minority tribe dish made from ground pork with thin strips of chewy pork ear cooked with a paste of dried and powdered galangal (hot ginger), lemongrass and chile that is wok-fried with the meat, garlic, scallions and cilantro and served with pork cracklings that goes well with green papaya salad and sticky rice.

Larb e-sarn is similar but made with ground chicken tossed with toasted and ground rice, chiles and red onion in a spicy lime vinaigrette. 

Khao man gai is literally “fat rice” based on Chinese Hainanese chicken rice but spicier, with the rice cooked in the broth that a whole chicken has been poached in (with the oily fat the skin gives off) served with slices of the chicken, the rice, the broth for sipping and a yellow fermented bean, garlic and chile sauce, a quintessential Thai street food. 

More familiar dishes include yum woonsen, a seafood and glass noodle salad; red curry with bamboo and Thai basil; and duck rice noodle soup with Asian celery that looks like parsley but has an intense celery taste. 

Cool the heat here with a Singha beer and be transported to Thailand.