Vermont has many culinary specialties: Pizza. Sandwiches. Maple creemees.
But If you’re seeking the spice and flavors of Southeast Asia, the Green Mountain State is probably not high on your go-to list. However, on Manchester’s Main Street strip, Thai Basil restaurant and martini bar delivers authentic flavors with a locally grown and sourced twist that will make you forget what state you’re even in.
From classic curries to signature noodle dishes ($9 to $15), fresh salads ($10.50 to $12) and stir fries ($9 to $15), the food rivals the finest Thai establishments in New York City. It’s also the place to get a warm bowl of pho, the classic Vietnamese noodle soup, served up with a Thai twist.
Got a vegan or gluten free member in your party? The menu offers many options for the selective eater, all clearly marked. If you’re truly a fan of spice, you can order anything on the menu “Thai hot,” a spice level that requires a strong stomach! Want it mild? Just ask — they can do that, too.
For the rabid carnivore, turn the menu to find Chef Varit “Peter” Yanyoo’s rotating list of chef’s creations ($17 to $31). The Pet Yahng Himapan ($31) is Thai Basil’s signature roast duck, perfectly crisp and served with fresh sauteed ginger, onion, tomato, carrot, cashew nuts, roasted chilies and pineapple. Can’t settle for one meat? The Three Musketeers ($25) features scallops, shrimp and sliced chicken breast immersed in a sweet and spicy panang curry with red bell pepper, carrot, Thai basil and kaffir lime leaf.
To wash down your meal (or just to take the edge off after a long day of work/exploring), Thai Basil offers more than 18 unique martinis, crafted up before your eyes on the mahogany inlaid-hardwood bar or served to you table side.
And while the food tastes amazing packed in a to-go container, the dine-in experience is even better. Super-friendly servers, sometimes including co-owner Nong Chompupong herself, make sure you never wait long. And in the kitchen, Yanyoo is working overtime on artful plating to guarantee each meal that comes out delights the eyes as well as the mouth.
How they got to Manchester
Chompupong and her partner Yanyoo’s family ties run deep throughout the region. She spent her early childhood about an hour outside of Bangkok, Thailand. When she was a teenager, the whole family immigrated to the United States.
She learned to cook working in her father’s restaurants; first in New York City and eventually moving north to Boston and finally settling in Albany, N.Y. As an adult, she took what she’d learned and put it into her own restaurants. Prior to opening Thai Basil in Manchester, the pair ran two restaurants in Essex, Vermont: the Drunken Noodle and Lemon Grass. In 2011, they moved operations south.
“We loved Manchester and its location in the mountains,” Chompupong said. “It’s the same as Thailand. Nice country, suburban, not too busy, no problems. It’s a very nice location, and we have a very good reception from the town.”
Manchester also offers an environment able to grow many of the Thai ingredients that aren’t readily available at stores in the area.
“In the summer time we grow our own ingredients,” she said. “We grow basil leaves and Thai chilis, and sometimes we get local mushrooms. This year we don’t have as much growing because we just didn’t have the time.”
Over the past decade, Thai Basil has grown into a must-visit location adored by the local community, so when COVID-19 threw a wrench in the system, the owners buckled down and did what they could to stay open.
“We never closed the restaurant during COVID because we had to support the locals,” Chompupong said. “It was even more difficult to get ingredients. We were having to drive to Albany to get things, but we tried to do everything the best that we can for our community. It was more difficult to make the food to go, so we had to learn and work twice as hard.”
Yanyoo said he’s been running the kitchen solo for over a year, but hard work is in the duo’s DNA. They adapted and with the exception of a few days here and there, and a reset day every Wednesday, they just keep pumping out delicious food.
“We are here every day, it’s our baby,” Chompupong said. “Some people can work from home, but with a restaurant you have to be here.”
And with every turn of the re-opening spigot in Vermont, they were able to open and little more. For summer 2021, the restaurant’s dining room bar and patio are all open and ready for things to get back to normal. Chompupong is just glad to still be working in such a friendly place.
“We are so happy to be in Manchester,“ she said. “From my first day, until now the locals have been so sweet. I love them.”