Thai chef Alex Boonphaya wanted to get out of his culinary comfort zone.
In an effort to keep up with Philadelphia’s cutting edge food scene, Boonphaya teamed up with fellow chef Silvestre Rincon to open the Mexican-Thai restaurant, Tuk Tuk Real, after his trip to Mexico last May.
Already an owner of Circles Contemporary Asian Cuisine, a restaurant located in South Philadelphia and in Northern Liberties, Boonphaya is comfortable with Thai cuisine. During his visit abroad however, he had the realization that it was time to expand his palate.
“I was inspired by the culture and food in Mexico,” Boonphaya said. “The trick is flavor balancing so one culture doesn’t overpower the other.”
Using experience in the kitchen, Boonphaya looked for ways to create something delicious that was different than the food he typically prepares.
“The authentic Mexican cuisine made him realize how many similarities there were between Mexican and Thai cuisine,” Grace Kurlander, personal assistant to Boonphaya, said. “He thought the flavors would really complement each other.”
Once back in the states, Boonphaya worked with Circles’ sous chef, Silvestre Rincon, to create the “Thai taqueria” they envisioned.
On Sept. 10, Boonphaya and Rincon opened the doors of Tuk Tuk Real to hundreds of people for a soft opening, before the grand opening the following day.
Tuk Tuk Real’s menu mostly comprises popular Mexican food like burritos and tacos, with a Thai twist. Items like Moo Ping, or grilled pork, and seared chicken breast with chili Thai red sauce and spiced corn bread, are among some of the plates offered.
The Mexican-Thai cuisine is a whole new experience for many Philadelphians like Maxwell Schryver, who was at the soft opening at Tuk Tuk.
“I’ve had Mexican food and I’ve had Thai food, but I never imagined them as one meal before coming here,” Schryver said. “It definitely works together though. It’s really good.”
Boonphaya said it can be tough to expect how people will react to such an innovative genre of food, but he has high hopes for his new endeavor.
“We’re bringing something new to Philly which I’m really excited about, so I think we will get a good response,” Boonphaya said.
“The city needs diversity and it’s something new, no one has done it in Philadelphia,” Kurlander said. “We are hoping for positive reactions, which so far, they have been.”
Siobhan Redding can be reached at email@example.com