It was a sad day when I found out Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop was closing on Smith Street. Although sister restaurant Scratch Meatery was a 10-minute drive away in Kakaako, gone was my foolproof brunch spot for early client meetings in downtown. Then I heard Opal Thai from Haleiwa was buying the space and moving to town. I did a complete 180.
While I had never eaten Opal’s famous food (he was even featured on Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives"), I had heard Frolic editor Mari Taketa wax poetic about his vibrant flavors and zesty crab fried noodles. So over the years I made three attempts to visit his North Shore restaurant, but each time Opal was on vacation.
Now that he's on Smith Street, I can say my long wait was well worth it.
If you’ve been to Opal’s before then you know the experience is unlike any other. The two-page menu is merely a suggestion, because after Opal welcomes you he takes the menus away and starts firing questions.
“Have you had my food before?”
”What kine Thai dishes have you had?”
”How spicy do you like it? Mild? Medium? Spicy? Thai spicy?”
Then Opal tailors your menu. That's right, he decides what you'll eat. If you’re a first-timer, you can expect your experience to be close to ours. On future visits, I hope to cover more of the menu (or at least try other things Opal decides I should eat).
We start with a mild version of the glazed garlic chicken wings. Fragrant, crispy fried basil leaves add crunch and a delicate herby undertone to the sweet, garlic-laden glaze. I unabashedly eat three of the four wings and would have fought fellow blogger Kelli Shiroma for the fourth, but I knew that house special dishes were on the way.
The first is the crab and pickled garlic noodles, a delicate dish of thin rice noodles twined with fine bits of crab meat, green bean and strips of cabbage and carrot. A spritz of lime brightens up the noodles and highlights the pungent pickled garlic. This is a staple from Opal’s food truck days, before he opened his restaurant in Haleiwa.
Next is a rich roasted basil duck with jasmine rice. It's heavier, both in taste and texture, and the floral basil leaves mixed in with the sweet sauce is quite addicting. The shredded duck is sparse, but its flavor carries through. Unbeknownst to us, Opal has planned our meal this way — mixing and matching dishes so the yin of the garlic noodles complements the yang of the duck stir fry.
Eating at Opal’s is like eating at your uncle’s house, except your uncle is a really friendly Thai chef (I think I shook his hand at least 12 times) who doesn’t tell cheesy uncle jokes. If you ask me, I think Opal just became my favorite uncle.
Opal Thai Chinatown
1030 Smith St #6
Tuesday - Sunday
11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and 5 - 10 p.m.