Kalaya, a BYO With a Straight-From-Thailand Menu, Will Open in the Italian Market

Owners My-Le Vuong and Nok Suntaranon are set to open in Bella Vista later this month.

kalaya thai restaurant south philadelphia bella vista italian market

Kalaya | Facebook

Kalaya, a restaurant serving a menu of straight-from-Thailand dishes, is set to open later this month in the Italian Market. The space at 764 South 9th Street at Catherine was the former home of Cafe Bella Vista.

“If you want to try new Thai food that’s different, if you love spicy, this is where you want to go,” said co-owner My-Le Vuong. She and chef and co-owner Nok Suntaranon set out to offer the dishes that Suntaranon grew up cooking and eating in Thailand, without modifying the cuisine to suit American palates.

Suntaranon was born and raised in Thailand, where she headed up restaurant kitchens before coming to the U.S., where she trained in both savory and pastry at culinary school. Vuong is a New York fine dining veteran who worked in front-of-house roles for B&B Hospitality Group, Jean-Georges, and Alain Ducasse. Most recently, the women organized Thai cooking classes and ran a catering business together. While on the hunt to find a larger catering kitchen over the winter, they came upon the cozy Bella Vista property and decided to open a full-fledged restaurant.

“Nok’s dishes are what they eat in Thailand — that’s why we don’t change much, and there’s no modifications,” Vuong said. “It’s not gonna be pad Thai with the option of chicken, beef, shrimp, or pork. The one, two, or three chilis to indicate spice level on the menu doesn’t happen in Thailand.”

One exception to that rule? The chef made a point to develop vegetarian and vegan versions of classic Thai dishes to accommodate diners in the neighborhood. The menu will also include dishes from the repertoire of Suntaranon’s mother, Kalaya’s namesake.

The 30-seat BYO will start out with dinner service and takeout, with plans to add quick, Thai-style lunches like fried rice, noodles, and stir fried dishes and delivery service in the near future. Pending final inspections, Vuong said, they’re hoping to open the doors no later than the third week of April.