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.
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.
Best of Chicago 2021 is
sponsored in part by
Refer to the closed final ballot to see all the categories and finalists that were voted on.