Half of the hot bar at Talard Thai Asian Market
Half of the hot bar at Talard Thai Asian Market. Its offerings include familiar American Thai favorites as well as dishes that are harder to find in the city’s restaurants. Credit: Philip Montoro for Chicago Reader

Talard Thai Asian Market (5353 N. Broadway) opened in fall 2019, and in summer 2020 it launched a cash-only hot bar in the back of the store. Like the similar hot bar at Immm Rice & Beyond, it approximates the cheap but reliable offerings of the classic Thai rice-curry shop, glorified in the West as “authentic street food.” A combo of two hot-bar items with jasmine rice costs $7.50, and three items will set you back just $7.95.

If this were run-of-the-mill American Thai food, a deal like that might still be a “so what.” But Talard doesn’t just sell familiar favorites such as panaeng, massaman, and khai phalo. The hot bar is one of only two places in the city I’ve encountered kaeng tai pla, a pungent, spicy southern curry made with fermented fish entrails—Talard’s version uses kabocha, bamboo shoots, fish, Thai eggplant, and long beans, and sometimes includes snappy, vividly bitter pea eggplants too. You’ll also routinely find kaeng hang le, an unctuous northern pork-belly curry that balances sour, sweet, salty, spicy, and funky, with plenty of ginger and Thai pickled garlic. 

Credit: Philip Montoro for Chicago Reader

On weekends especially, when the hot bar offers more variety, you might see Laotian dishes, among them kaeng nor mai, a bamboo-shoot soup made with earthy yanang-leaf juice, okra, mushrooms, and squash. Weekends sometimes also mean unposted specials, announced on Talard’s Facebook page: be sure to ask what’s new, and you could get the chance to order kanom krok, Hainanese chicken and rice, or batter-fried bananas. Any day but Wednesday, you can get som tam, with add-ins including salted egg, brined crabs, and pla ra. The hot bar opens at 10 AM, when the market does, and usually closes at 6 PM (or earlier if business is slow).

And because the groceries at Talard will surely call out to you too, I should mention that it’s often even cheaper to cook your own Thai food. I recommend starting with the cookbooks of part-time Chicagoan and friend of the Reader Leela Punyaratabandhu, or with her lively and helpful newsletter, the Epestle.

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Philip Montoro

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid, and he’s also split two national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and one in in 2020 for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. Philip has played scrap metal in Lozenge, drummed with the Disasters, the Afflictions, and Brilliant Pebbles, and sung for the White Outs. He wrote the column Beer and Metal from 2012 till 2015, and hopes to do so again one day. You can also follow him on Twitter.