Eleven years ago, Raphassa “Wan” Somcharee moved to Ogden from Thailand with her teenage daughter, Palita Sriphom, to be with her husband, who lived here.
Despite Somcharee’s expertise — she ran a restaurant in Thailand with her family while also working full-time for Thailand’s department of agriculture — she was intimidated by the prospect of opening a restaurant.
“I didn’t plan to open a restaurant because it’s hard work,” Somcharee said. “It’s not my language — everything is different.”
“Mainly she was scared, like, ‘Oh, who was going to help us?’” Sriphom said. “Because in her land we have a whole bunch of family, but here we didn’t have anybody.”
During her first few months in Ogden, Somcharee ate at several Thai restaurants in Salt Lake City. On one of these visits, Somcharee met a woman who ran a Thai restaurant and had worked in several others. This woman became Somcharee’s mentor and encouraged her to open her own establishment.
“It’s not that scary,” she told Somcharee. “If you have good recipes, you can do it.”
Located in a small strip mall on 12th Street that’s easy to miss, the restaurant Somcharee eventually opened, named Aroy-D, has been in business for eight years. Before Aroy-D went in, at least seven restaurants had failed in that same location.
On a Friday or Saturday night, it can be hard to find a parking spot. During lunch, every table is full.
Needless to say, Somcharee’s recipes are good.
So good, in fact, that’s how the restaurant got its name. During the time when Somcharee was getting the restaurant up and running, the family sat down for dinner.
After dinner, Somcharee’s husband — who knows some Thai words although he’s from the U.S. — said “Thank you, this is Aroy-D,” which means “delicious” in Thai.
“I said ‘That’s the name!’” Somcharee recounted, pointing her finger in excitement.
What to eat — and some tips
For those who are new to Thai food, Somcharee and Sriphom have some recommendations.
When first-timers come to the restaurant, Somcharee says, “We don’t let them eat curry yet.” Thai curries are complex blends of spices and herbs, usually in a sauce that includes vegetables and your choice of meat. It’s traditionally served over jasmine rice.
The best dishes to start with are a mixed veggie stir-fry, fried rice or pad Thai (rice noodles stir-fried in a special sauce with green onions and egg, then garnished with bean sprouts, peanuts and lime). These dishes have simple ingredients that newcomers will recognize.
The pad Thai has a tangy sauce, and noodles that are just done and not too soft. Even in a take-out box, it’s usually steaming, straight from the pan. For those skeptical of bean sprouts, Aroy-D’s are always good, with a light taste and fresh crispness.
Once you are acquainted with these starter dishes, the next step is curries, basil stir fries or drunken noodles.
For curries, “always start with red,” Sriphom recommends. It is the most common and popular curry in Thailand (and regular take-out fare at the home of this writer). Make sure to order an extra box of rice for $1, because the curry goes a long way. Aroy-D’s red curry comes with zucchini, red bell peppers, and bamboo shoots.
In addition, if you are new to curry start with a mild spice level of 1 or 2 on Aroy-D’s six-point scale, which runs hot compared to other Thai restaurants. A server can always add spice — in Thai food, the source of heat is dried chilis — or bring some to the table so you can add it to taste.
The most popular curry at Aroy-D is Massaman curry, which blends traditional Thai flavors with spices often found in Indian food. If the restaurant were to run out of the ingredients for a curry, Sriphom says, it would Massaman.
Make sure to finish off your dinner or lunch with mango sticky rice — a unique dessert that is made of warm sticky rice covered with a sweet coconut milk sauce, accompanied by a ripe sliced mango and garnished with sesame seeds. Free from shredded coconut, this dish can be savored by coconut haters and lovers alike.
These examples only skim the surface of Aroy-D’s extensive menu, so picky eaters are likely to find something they can enjoy.
“Don’t be scared of Thai food,” Sriphom said. “There are so many choices ... and it’s not always going to be spicy, you can choose.”