Sala Bua Thai Restaurant | Chinatown, Chicago

Sala Bua serves top-notch Thai food in an unexpected place: Chinatown

Chicago's excellent Thai restaurants (and there are many) are scattered across the North Side, as though Diversey Parkway is a barrier over which khao soi cannot cross.

That's why we were so pleased to discover Sala Bua. It plays in the same league as favorites like Sticky Rice and Rainbow, but in a wholly different neighborhood: Chinatown.

There's no separate Thai menu here: Dishes like raw shrimp with garlic ($12) and preserved duck egg salad ($7) flank pad Thai ($8) and satay ($7).

We encourage diverging from the norm and doing so with yum pla dook foo ($8), a salad of green apple, onions and crunchy tufts of shredded, dehydrated, fried catfish–like little seafaring clusters of panko. Doused in a sweet-hot-sour dressing of fish sauce and lime, it brought ATK's crispy on choy to mind. Translation: It's irresistible and crave-inducing.

Boat noodles and tao-jeaw at Sala Bua

Tao-jeaw ($8) is of gentler disposition, comprised of cucumbers stuffed with coconut-milk-braised ground pork. Sala Bua's boat noodle ($8) broth is redolent with star anise and dappled with rendered fat–though it lacks the dark, bloody funk of the best versions.

Owner Stanley Liem is Chinese, and his wife is Thai. Liem says, "I think I've tried every single Thai restaurant in Chicago."

His research is our gain.