Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft

1745 Peachtree Road, Atlanta

It’s hard enough to come from a prominent restaurant family and open your own place; even harder to set up shop in a space that was one of the city’s most regaled. Comparison is inevitable, and people are fickle. The pundits often enjoy failure as much as success.

So Deedee Niyomkul and her fiancé, Thaddeus Keefe — she is the daughter of chef-owner Nan Niyomkul of Nan Thai Fine Dining and Tamarind Seed Thai Bistro and he is a really tall dude who excels at technical design — have their work cut out for them. They’ve opened a casual Thai restaurant, Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft, in the massive, second-story space that was Gary Mennie’s Taurus, and the focus is Thai — specifically Bangkok — street food.

Add to the pedigree of Tuk Tuk the debate du jour in Atlanta surrounding the lack of street food and a real challenge could evolve. (There is a petition underway, and former Atlanta magazine dining critic Christiane Lauterbach, who publishes the foodie journal Knife & Fork each month, has a new Web site devoted to the task of getting street food in Atlanta, ahem, on the street.) For now, Atlantans must settle for restaurants like Tuk Tuk and Roswell’s Inc. Street Food to get their street fixin’s.

The reality is, however, that Deedee is as lovely and talented as her mother, but she was influenced most by her Thai grandmother rather than the haute cuisine of Thailand’s royal, French-influenced past featured so prominently at her family’s other restaurants. The result is a menu of traditional Thai favorites — yes, mostly street food — that are fun and tasty to explore.

The scene is fun, too, and reflects the couple’s youthful style, from the namesake “tuk tuk” taxi in the restaurant’s downstairs foyer (in the summer, I hope they offer rides) to the whimsical wall of Thai cookies, biscuits and candies stacked in glass-and-tin boxes. Nearby, an ice shaver provides the basis of one of Niyomkul’s playful desserts: a Thai snow cone. Thin-shaved ice mixed with sweetened condensed milk, rose syrup, bits of yam, mochi-like jellies and red beans is a cool Thai carnival in your mouth.

Eschewing eating dessert first, the merriment begins as soon as general manager See Wai Sayavong discovers you like to eat and drink. A former Ritz-Carlton employee, she is master of ceremonies and runs the dining room like a well organized Big Top Circus.

Niyomkul seems content playing George to her Gracie, letting food be her focus, and many of her dishes are worth crowing about. Larb kai is spicy with flavor, its minced chicken visibly dotted with red flecks of chile peppers and laced with lime, then wrapped in cabbage. Mieng kum offers minced lime, ginger, coconut and peanuts, all caramelized in palm sugar then placed in tiny mounds on fresh spinach leaves. Niyomkul will encourage you to eat neau sawan, a tender, sweetly barbecued beef jerky cut into slivers and served with sticky rice, with your fingers.

Steamed rice buns lack filling and flavor, but roti is a simple pancake, smaller than Malaysian versions, served with a semi-spicy, thin green curry. With zi klong moo – garlicky barbecued ribs – a menu of small plates is rounded out nicely.

Order Bangkok-style noodles, and Sayavong will show you how to eat them, street style, by putting them to her mouth and pushing them in with chopsticks. They are worth the lesson: Lad na is to Thai streets what hot dogs are to New York’s, and the flat rice noodles are full of rich flavor from a soy bean gravy that surrounds shrimp, rings of calamari and florets of broccoli.

Tuk Tuk is proof that any food — especially street food — can be as much fun as it is authentic. Even if there’s no street.

Dining review

Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft

Overall rating:

Food: Thai street food

Service: Niyomkul brought many of the servers as interns from Bangkok - they know her food well, and are happy to please

Price range: $$

Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express

Hours of operation: Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday - Friday; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday, 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Sunday brunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Best dishes: Larb kai, mieng kum, zi klong moo, roti with green curry, Thai snow cones

Vegetarian selections: Pad mee, papaya salad

Children: For lunch and early evening hours

Parking: Adjacent lot

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair access: Yes

Smoking: Patio only

Noise level: Medium

Patio: Yes

Takeout: Yes

Address, telephone: 1745 Peachtree Road, Atlanta, 678-539-6181

Web site: www.tuktukatl.com

Pricing code: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. The price code represents a typical full-course meal for one excluding drinks.

Key to AJC ratings

Outstanding

Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.

Excellent

One of the best in the Atlanta area.

Very good

Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.

Good

A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit and miss.

Fair

Food is more miss than hit.

Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.