There's some seriously delicious cooking going on in the tiny kitchen at Khun Nine Thai in Mount Vernon. The culinary magic takes place behind a thin curtain separating it from the bare-bones, 20-seat dining room.
The results are inspired Thai dishes by chef-owner Kittisak "Kit" Pimput, who was born in Thailand. He owns the restaurant with Aticha Thiwongkhum and Montree Wongchalee.
Pimput turns out attractive, aromatic creations with fresh ingredients, including noodle bowls, curry and rice dishes, and entrees like chicken basil and ginger beef.
The food is pleasantly spicy, probably more so than you usually find at ethnic restaurants catering to American palates. The cooking staff is happy to tone it down if you like.
But not us. I can't remember the last time I had such a flavorful curry dish. Chilies gave it bite. And Thai basil contributed subtle spiciness and a pale green hue.
Khun Nine Thai opened in September along a stretch of North Charles Street that's becoming a restaurant row with Dooby's and The Helmand. It is located in a space formerly occupied by the restaurant Thairish.
Pimput, who worked at Thai restaurants in D.C. and was a manager at Stang of Siam in Midtown-Belvedere, said he learned a lot about cooking from restaurant mentors. Friends kept telling him he should open his own place — and he did.
Scene & Decor The dining area is a streamlined, functional storefront space with bare tables that are lighted by small lanterns in the evening. Techno music emanates from a sound system, but it's more energetic than annoying. There are a few tables outside for the lingering warm days.
Appetizers The shrimp lemongrass soup ($5) was an ethereal soup with whole shrimp, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and a hot and sour broth that delivered a healthy dose of chili heat. Our only obstacle was trying to genteelly remove the shrimp tails and not splash the soup's liquid. The kanom jeep ($7) were stubby rounds of handmade pork and shrimp dumplings topped with lump crab. They were set in a wonderful sweet soy and fried garlic sauce.
Entrees The green curry chicken ($11) was successful with tender ribbons of poultry, eggplant, green beans, sweet pepper and Thai basil and served with a side dish of rice. In the delicious pad key mao ($14), soft wide noodles were intertwined with tomatoes, onions and sweet pepper in a spicy chili garlic basil sauce. We chose to have ours with shrimp and seafood (too chewy squid and delicate scallops that night). You can also order the dish with tofu and vegetables ($10), and chicken, beef or pork ($11).
Drinks There are no alcoholic beverages. We were happy with our Thai iced tea ($3), a black-tea mix that was sweet with sugar and creamy with half and half.
Service Our waiter was conscientious and polite.
Dessert The only choice is the pandan leaf mango sticky rice, and it's a fine one. The rice is flavored with a coconut sauce tinged with the sweet, floral South Asian herb. It was served warm with fresh mango cubes.
Khun Nine Thai
Backstory: Kittisak "Kit" Pimput, Aticha Thiwongkhum and Montree Wongchalee opened Khun Nine Thai in September. Pimput, the chef, prepares dishes from his native Thailand.
Signature dish: Green chicken curry
TVs: No TVs
Where: 804 N. Charles St., Mount Vernon
Contact: 443-835-2319, khunninethai.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Accepts reservations
Bottom line: Khun Nine Thai is a find. Don't miss this one for lunch or dinner.