Featured, Living

We’ll Say It: This Kha-Renderia Makes the Best Thai Food in Cebu

Talk about a hole-in-the-wall. Unmarked and accessed through a nondescript alley into an open-air hodgepodge of plastic furniture, AJ Street Thai Food in Cebu is every bit your friendly, neighborhood eatery—down to a laminated picture menu taped across a makeshift counter and the entire family pitching in on service.

The silogs that they have started with, although still very much available, have since taken a backseat to fare straight off, and transporting us to, the streets of Thailand. The ambiance is pretty much, well, ambient, and they wisely did away with nakakasawa-dee-khas plus all the cultural kitsch of most other local Siamese concepts.

Winiver “Win” Agcang uprooted his family from two decades of life in Thailand to settle back in the Philippines after the birth of his son, the eponymous Arun Jedrick. They celebrated their first Sinulog in 2019 opening a Pinoy lutong-bahay with his wife, Beverly, to a lukewarm response in a neighborhood chockfull of similar setups. Taking from his exposure to authentic Thai cuisine, he started to serve a few Thai items for dinner service to the delight of his regulars.

Yum Goong Mamuang

His menu shifted to all-day and gradually expanded along with his word-of-mouth patronage until the quarantines forced them shut. Seeing the massive shift to online selling, they soon pushed their menu to their regulars online on pick-up or delivery basis to enjoy an in-the-know cult following. Their discovery, and vice versa, of the local online food community, Let’s Eat Bai, only bolstered that acclaim.

On the Menu

Overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices on the menu, we defaulted to the familiar Pad Thai and, boy, had we zero regrets. Thin rice noodles are stir-fried with scrambled eggs, tofu, chicken, roasted ground peanuts, and bean sprouts, dressed in tamarind sauce and served with a lemon wedge for overall bold umami and other rich, vibrant flavors. Teaspoonfuls of palm sugar, chili powder, and ground peanuts make functional garnishes to tailor the dish to one’s preferences.

I always go for recommendations and went with one for the aptly named Yum Khai. Thai-style fried eggs— delightfully crispy around the edges with runny yolks—are topped with basil and chopped garden vegetables. A dressing of lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce hits the sweet, sour, and savory spots for this excellent vehicle for greens. You’d be playing safe with fried chicken but the crisp shell of their Kai Wan gives way to succulent centers in a textural surprise. This balance plays a clean, meaty canvas for a sweet, sour, and spicy flavor explosion in the glaze.

From left, Thai Pork Garlic, Kai Wan and Goong Gai Namprik

Thai curry paste and chili paste layer nuances of spice-heat onto chunks of chicken and sizable shrimp in the Goong Gai Namprik. Coconut milk brings a splash of sweet, nutty flavor while soothing that delicious burn. Thinly-sliced pork tenderloin is stir-fried in a rich, garlicky, peppery, and slightly sweet sauce in the Moo Kratiem, a classic Thai dish that speaks to the Pinoy affinity for that meat and those bases.

Caution: True Thai Spice Levels

I’d advise you to think twice about ordering anything at Thai-spice levels. Then again, that would only make it an even more authentic experience at this “kha”-renderia. Already toeing my word count limit, we haven’t covered half of the listed menu items and Win pushes pre-order items for our subsequent visits and on top of off-menu specials.

The classic Thai hot and sour soup, Tom Yum Goong, is available either on a call-in or a long wait as a slow simmer is required to pull all the flavors from the individual ingredients and to meld these into that mouth-puckering zing that can only be best approximated by a reaction in the vernacular, kilig. The giant shrimp swimming in it make huge pluses, too. Tom Yum Heng is the “dry” version where all the same herbs and seasonings are stir-fried, minus the broth, into a light, herby sauce to coat rice noodles. Slices of pork and, curiously, ground pork give it heft. More texture and flavor come in beansprouts, cilantro, and crushed peanuts with a side dollop of Thai chili paste for another undertone of sweet heat.

Mango Sticky Rice

Mango Sticky Rice, Khao New Mamuang, pairs the sweetest of our local mangoes with sweetened, steamed glutinous rice and a drizzling of white sesame. Salted coconut milk, to add as desired, make it a strangely delicious, sweet-savory combination.

There’s nostalgia for those hanging on to their vivid gustatory memories of the Land of Smiles and there’s discovery and sheer enjoyment for those who have yet to tick it off their bucket lists. Either way, Winiver’s way back home makes it a win for both his family and his newfound family of fans. Aroi mak!

AJ Street Thai Food is located on Ayala Access Road, Cebu City. For orders and inquiries, contact 0919 310 8787.


About Michael Karlo Lim

Karlo lives to eat. Eats for a living. Writes in between. And then some. Catch his adventures on his Instagram account @thehamburgero

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