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1. The backstory: Kitty Ashi and Pooh Wonglaka are larger-than-life restaurateurs successfully running two eateries under the same name in Madison and Charlottesville, Virginia. Wonglaka moved here when her husband became a professor at the University of Wisconsin, while Ashi maintains the Virginia location.
2. The vibe: As far as Thai restaurants go, Monsoon Siam captures a modern feel with a flare of the homeland. Wonglaka shows off small collections of art along with a simple map of her native Thailand near the front door. Wonglaka personifies a new generation of immigrants, and the word is out.
3. The food: Wonglaka calls her fare friendly and authentic. “People will say, ‘Oh my God, I thought I was in Thailand!’” she says with pride. The dishes range from simple to intricate, and favorites often include meals that don’t make the menu. Wonglaka says she often takes requests for those who know what they want but don’t see it as a selection.
4. The must-try: If you crave curry, don’t miss the massaman curry made with peanuts, potatoes and onions. The yellow curried Kao Soi is a fun two-noodle dish—filled with romaine noodles and topped with crispy noodles, red onions and pickled cabbage. You can’t go wrong with the crying tiger, a flank steak dish served on top of a side salad. But the winner of them all might be the pla pad ped, deep-fried tilapia filets sautéed with a special chili paste sauce, bamboo shoots and young peppercorns.
5. The bottom line: Monsoon Siam is a modern-day Thai restaurant with both approachable and ambitious food. Wonglaka says she’s just a woman who likes to meet new people and eat. She may be a transplant, but people from the neighborhood have already claimed her and her restaurant as one of their own.
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