Each Friday in this space food writer Sarah Henry asks a well-known, up-and-coming, or under-the-radar food aficionado about their favorite tastes in town, preferred food purveyors and other local culinary gems worth sharing.
Anchalee Natasiri co-owns Anchalee Thai Cuisine restaurant with her chef-husband Chuck Natasiri. Since late 2007, the couple has served up classic Thai dishes on Dwight Avenue in West Berkeley.
Anchalee, 41, born and raised in Thailand, grew up in Tak Province in the north, and went to school in Chiang Mai, where she still has a home. Her husband was born in San Francisco but his family returned to Bangkok when he was young. The couple, who have lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years, have a home in Emeryville.
Full disclosure: Anchalee is a favored haunt of this writer. So she’ll leave it to the restaurant reviewers at the East Bay Express and San Francisco Chronicle, along with citizen critics at Yelp, to weigh in on the food. Still, if the green curry halibut special is available, you’d be wise to try it. Just saying.
Oh, and the word “anchalee” means the physical act of putting hands to chest in a greeting familiar to some as “namaste”, or welcome. How sweet is that?
Where do you like to eat when you’re not at the restaurant?
We’re both here every night of the week, so our only opportunity to eat out is breakfast or brunch on the weekends. We like 900 Grayson. It has a good, neighborhood atmosphere and the food is simple and fresh. Even though I mostly eat Thai food, I do like their spicy fried chicken and buttermilk pancakes, which are both pretty American dishes.
Do you have a local food hero?
Andy and Cindy, who sell Thai food at the Berkeley Farmers’ Markets. Andy, who I think is Polish, used to work in the space where our restaurant is now. It was also a Thai restaurant then, called Vanni. Cindy, his partner in life and work, is Taiwanese, I believe. I like that it’s kind of unexpected to find this mixed-nationality couple, neither of them Thai, serving up Thai street food with a twist. He’s come up with a California interpretation of traditional Thai dishes and they’re really quite good and everything is organic. I particularly like his red snapper red curry with coconut milk, lemongrass and galangal wrapped in banana leaf.
What’s missing on the food scene in this town?
I can’t find a good Korean restaurant, and that’s my favorite cuisine after Thai. I like Korean-style fish soup, barbecue pork, and the condiments, particularly kim chee. There’s a lot of good Korean food in Oakland but I’ve yet to eat at a good Korean place in Berkeley. I hear that maybe up by campus there are some…
What do local residents look for when they eat out?
They want really healthy choices. My husband worked in a Thai restaurant in Lafayette for a long time, and they ate a lot of meat there. Here, customers want to see organic and vegetarian options on the menu. We recently expanded our non-meat options. We sell a lot of tofu.
What do you like most about running a restaurant here?
The people. It’s such a mixed community and we attract a diverse crowd. You can find every ethnicity here. Oh, and the weather. It’s really hot and humid in Thailand. It’s too much. I prefer running a restaurant in a cooler climate.
Sarah Henry is a freelance writer whose stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Washington Post and San Francisco Magazine. A contributor to the food policy blog Civil Eats, she muses about food, family and growing greens on her blog lettuce eat kale.
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[Photo: Sarah Henry]