Atlanta Orders In: Niyomkul family stays on brand with Tuk Tuk, Chai Yo and Nan Thai

Thai fried chicken is a Monday-only special at Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft. Ligaya Figueras/ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

New line of sauces, grab-and-go market in works for Thai restaurant group

The Niyomkul family has been offering Atlantans a taste of Thailand since husband and wife Charlie and Nan opened Tamarind Seed in 1997. That was followed by Nan Thai Fine Dining in 2003, Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft in 2010 and Chai Yo Modern Thai in 2018 — the latter two projects led by their daughter, DeeDee Niyomkul. (Tamarind Seed is now closed.)

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Chef DeeDee Niyomkul is seen in the dining room of Chai Yo Modern Thai in Buckhead. Courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee

As the multi-generation team behind some of Atlanta’s most popular Thai restaurants continues to push through the pandemic, DeeDee Niyomkul not only has kept a positive outlook, but also embraced change as part of the next chapter for the Tamarind Restaurant Group, and her own culinary career.

“It’s been challenging, but also rewarding, since we’ve been very adaptive with everything we’ve been doing,” she said.

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The kitchen at Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft prepares orders for Feed the Frontline. Courtesy of Tamarind Restaurant Group

That includes participating for eight weeks in late spring in the Feed the Frontlines initiative, to prepare meals for Emory health care workers; launching curbside takeout, a service option at Tuk Tuk that continues to see brisk business; and getting creative with food — be it the casual street fare at Tuk Tuk or the contemporary takes on Thai classics at upscale Chai Yo in Buckhead.

Mondays are now synonymous with fried chicken. That’s Spicy Thai Fried Chicken Sandwich Night at Chai Yo, while Thai fried chicken makes a special appearance at Tuk Tuk. Both are prepared using a recipe inspired by Niyomkul’s grandmother, Payow Sanguankiat, a former street food vendor in Bangkok. “We’re kind of having fun with it,” Niyomkul said of the Monday meal shake-up.

She’s also having fun as she prepares to launch a line of Thai sauces. The sleekly designed pouches bear the label Nandee, and come in a trio of curry flavors — green, panang and massaman — as well as a Thai-style stir fry sauce. These Thai pantry perks will be sold online and shipped nationwide, and they factor into the plan to convert the lobby at Tuk Tuk into a market.

Nandee is a line of Thai sauces by chef Dee Dee Niyomkul of Chai Yo Modern Thai, / Courtesy of Dee Dee Niyomkul

“Take it home, add a protein and vegetables of your choice, and there you go,” Niyomkul said. When the Tuk Tuk market debuts in mid-November, the coolers also will be filled with grab-and-go prepared foods, and, eventually, meal kits.

Niyomkul said that packaged sauces and adding the market both had been projects on the wish list for some time. The pandemic is what spurred the team to action. “It has brought a lot of inspiration to things we want to do with our restaurants and brand,” she said. “This is a perfect time.”

She conceded that, prior to the arrival of COVID-19, “things were kind of on autopilot. Now, it’s adaption, creativity.”

And sweat.

“I’ve worked harder than I have in a long time,” said the leader of the all-female management team at Chai Yo. Her jobs lately range from cooking for ticketed Thai barbecue cookouts to entertaining guests at the private chef’s table, while preparing eight-course wine dinners.

The upscale Chai Yo offers contemporary takes on Thai classics. Courtesy of Erik Meadows Photography

Credit: Yvonne Zusel

Credit: Yvonne Zusel

“Even chef DeeDee is washing dishes,” chimed in Tamarind Restaurant Group Chief Operating Officer Mike O’Kelly.

“Or bar-backing,” Niyomkul added.

With the uptick in Chai Yo’s catering orders for office workers who have begun to return to their desks, the return of the majority of nearly 100 employees across all three restaurants, and the forthcoming Tuk Tuk market and Nandee sauces, the outlook for Tamarind Restaurant Group is bright — as bright as Niyomul’s finger-licking Thai fried chicken with papaya salad, and as bright as the view of Midtown from Tuk Tuk’s third-story Skyline Patio on a gorgeous Monday in autumn.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Tossed with fried garlic, mint and cilantro, Thai Sticky Wings are a recent specialty item on the menu at Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft. / Courtesy of DeeDee Niyomkul

TUK TUK THAI FOOD LOFT

Menu: Thai street food

Alcohol: full bar available for on-premises dining, wine available for takeout

What I ordered: Thai fried chicken special (available Mondays only), with papaya salad and sticky rice; seared scallop pumpkin curry fried rice (seasonal special); Thai sticky wings (specialty item); green curry with jasmine rice; side of roti and sautéed vegetables

Service options: dine-in or takeout; curbside available upon request; order in person, online or by phone; delivery (within 8-mile radius) via ChowNow

Outdoor dining: third-floor covered Skyline Patio

Mask policy: all employees masked; guests must wear masks to enter, and when not seated

Enhanced safety measures: guest temperature check at reception desk; touchless QR Code menus

Address, phone: 1745 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta; 678-539-6181

Hours: lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5-10 p.m. Fridays-Sundays

Website: tuktukatl.com

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