Khunnai Chang in the West End

by Victoria on March 23, 2010

A few years ago, a fellow Terrace-born friend of mine, Stephanie (Gone Green Bananas), had just gotten back from Thailand and told me about a small Thai restaurant that she had randomly found one day on Denman Street called Khunnai Chang.  I somehow never managed to go give it a shot since then, but after going for a walk along the beach in English Bay, it came to mind when we were considering dinner options.  So we went to try it out!  It also helped that the owner’s husband had sent me an email a few days before, mentioning that if I was looking for authentic Thai cuisine, I should probably give it a shot.

So there we were – we walked into Khunnai and the familiar fragrant aromas in the air immediately had my mouth watering.  I was anxious to try everything, and was happy to see that the small restaurant, which probably seats around forty people at the most, was fairly busy during the weekday evening.  The decor was not overbearing and it felt very comfortable yet elegant, as we were greeted right at the door with a friendly smile.

The first thing I did was order the Thai Iced Tea.  It’s always a bit of a signal of what to expect when I go out for Thai food at a new place, as if it’s an overly sweet syrup that’s bright orange (yuck!) rather than a darker brewed tea where cream is added upon ordering (such as this case), then I know what’s probably coming for the rest of the meal.  Mike ordered an apple juice, and also mentioned that it was delicious – it tasted like the pure stuff, and not some blended alternative.

That’s when we (or should I say I) went ahead and started picking what we wanted.  We ordered a few things and requested them to only have medium spiciness out of the four levels available (for Mike’s sake), and had them just bring everything to the table as it’s ready, instead of starting with the salads or following any particular order.  I prefer eating Thai food that way.

First off, we had the Larb Gai, which is something that I will always order if it’s on the menu – a combination of ground chicken (it can be pork or other meat as well), onions, cilantro, lettuce, and a variety of common Thai spices. We ate this healthy dish with steamed jasmine rice, and I was ecstatic when it was served and I started eating it. It actually tasted like what I expected, and thought immediately that my mom would really enjoy it as well.  The best part is to scoop out all of the sauce from the bottom of the dish and pouring it over my rice – the lemongrass, fish sauce, and lime flavours taste excellent together.

Larb Gai Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5

Next up was the Yum Woonsen, which is a glass noodle dish, in this case containing snap peas, broccoli, shrimp, squid and pork, onions and cilantro.  It’s also considered a salad (along with the larb gai) but I consider it to just be another main dish to eat (especially when my mom makes it).  Just eating it made me strongly reminiscent of home cooking when I was growing up.

Yum Woonsen Rating: 4Rating: 4Rating: 4Rating: 4Rating: 4

Finally, the last of our main dishes was the Pad Grapau Neua.  On the menu, it’s listed to be either with Gai or Moo (chicken or pork), but I felt like having some beef instead, as we already had other meat options in our other choices.  They went ahead and made this alternative upon my request. This is basically a stirfry with Thai basil, but also includes onion, green and red bell peppers, and chilies.  Again, this was done well, although my least favourite of the three items that we had ordered (but this is also my least favourite dish in general).

Pad Grapau Neua Rating: 3.5Rating: 3.5Rating: 3.5Rating: 3.5Rating: 3.5

Finally, though I barely had any room left for dessert, I had to try something anyway.  The options that evening were Sticky Rice with Coconut Milk and Fresh Mango, and Deep Fried Banana with Ice Cream.  I chose the latter.  And was I ever glad.  The vanilla ice cream that they used was so rich and creamy, and the serving was extremely generous.  We ended up sharing this luckily, as I never would’ve made it through on my own (for once). The batter around the banana was crispy and not excessive, and they were cooked just to right point where the banana isn’t too mushy, but still has the sweet cooked flavour that it should.

Deep Fried Banana with Ice Cream Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5

After my meal, I went up and introduced myself to the owner’s husband, and asked him a few questions. I let him know that I was glad I stopped by, as it was the best and most authentic Thai food that I’ve had in Vancouver to date.

Khunnai Chang has been open for about three and a half years now, and the owner is from nearby to Ayuthaya, which is just north of  Bangkok.  This could also explain why I really appreciated her cooking, as my mother is also just from the outskirts of the capital city and probably uses a similar style for her Thai cuisine.

I will definitely be back, and plan on taking my mom there when she’s in town next in a couple of weeks.  The service was also extremely friendly from the moment that I stepped in the door.

Finally, a great authentic Thai restaurant that I can go to in Vancouver and let people know about!

Khunnai Chang (Madame Elephant) Thai Cuisine
835 Denman St
Vancouver, BC, V6G 2L7
View Map

Overall: Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5
Food: Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5
Service: Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5Rating: 4.5
Atmosphere: Rating: 4Rating: 4Rating: 4Rating: 4Rating: 4
Price: $$

Khunnai Chang Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben March 24, 2010 at 12:28 am

Hi Victoria: I really will take your word for it and check this place out one of these days. You seems to know Thai food pretty well. I just had an amazing Thai meal in Portland two days ago and finds that it beats what we had tried so far in Vancouver. Tom Yam is what I always liked best of Thai food.

Stephanie March 24, 2010 at 10:59 am

Yeyyy!!! I’m so glad that you got to finally try out Khunnai! Just reading your post, brought back some delicious memories:) I totally agree with you, when you say it is the closest thing to authentic Thai cuisine in Vancouver. Great, now I have a craving for it… ha!

Victoria March 26, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Hi Ben, I’ll have to give Tom Yam a try – that’s in Burnaby right? Also, what was the place that you tried in Portland so I can add it to my list. 🙂

Sue, Vancouver, BC, Canada March 28, 2010 at 2:08 am

This sounds good…will have to give it a try! To date my fav Thai restaurant is Montri out near Alma. (best to make reservations)
Enjoying yoour blog!!

Victoria March 30, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Hi Sue, I’ve heard the same recommendation from a few others as well. I’m going to have to try it sometime soon and compare!

eatingclubvancouver_js August 3, 2010 at 8:05 pm

So this restaurant is a big thumbs up — would you have other Thai restaurants to recommend? I’ve been jonesing for some authentic Thai recently but am coming up blank. TIA.

Victoria August 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I don’t really have others to recommend. There’s particular dishes at particular restaurants in Vancouver. Like the Drunken Spicy Noodle at Sala Thai on Burrard, or some others at Sawasdee Thai on Main near 25th (I haven’t been in years though, so I can’t recall specifics and have to go back soon). Other than that, it’s kind of tough here!

Mijune August 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Omg Victoria!! I love this place too!! LOL! I went with a group of 6 before I started blogging and I was sooooo pleasantly surprised. Walking by I thought this place will NOT be authentic Thai… since it’s located on Denman I thought “touristy area, touristy Thai”… AND everyone inside was a tourist or “not Thai”… basically I had no hopes for it. But wow, was I surprised. Every dish was amazing, except they did tone done the spices for a few of them. Next time I’ll ask for it the real Thai way – spice it up!

Oh and larb gai is my favourite and must have too!

Love the post!

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