Kalaya is famous for its blue Thai pea flower dumplings and southern Thai food. Eating here is a must for anyone who wants to explore Philly’s exciting food scene.
Although we left our Bainbridge Street row house in Philly, we’ve kept our ears out for what’s going on in our former neighborhood. When Kalaya hit South Philly (before relocating to Fishtown), the restaurant sent a shock wave that we could feel across the Atlantic.
What was this? On 9th Street, literally a couple blocks from our old house, next to Ralph’s, in a town not necessarily known for even decent American-style Thai food, a restaurant had emerged allegedly serving not only great Southern Thai cuisine but maybe some of the best food in the city. A visit was clearly in order.
Kalaya moved to Fishtown in 2023 and is now affiliated with Defined Hospitality, the group that runs a slate of notable Philly restaurants including Pizzeria Beddia and Suraya. The new space is substantially larger with 145 seats, a full bar and an expanded menu.
Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon
Kalaya is helmed by Southern Thai native, and now Philadelphia treasure, Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon. If her name sounds familiar, you probably saw her on the Philadelphia episode of Somebody Feed Phil. Or maybe you read about her James Beard award or saw her featured in magazines like Esquire and Food & Wine.
We don’t use the word treasure lightly especially when it comes to our home city. For years, prior to opening Kalaya, Suntaranon became an integral part of the Queen Village community. In 2019, she opened her restaurant just by the Italian Market to rave reviews and later moved it to Fishtown in 2023.
We learned two things during our meal at Kalaya: (1) Pad Thai isn’t on the menu and (2) the restaurant’s piquancy levels are strong. This is a restaurant where diners can expect a voyage of Southeast Asian food discovery where spicy food is truly spicy.
Order a variety of dishes to fully experience Kalaya’s authentic take on Thai cuisine.
Food At Kalaya
Starting with bright blue shaw muang dumplings colored with special Thai pea flowers and filled with ground chicken and peanuts, our meal was a revelation.
But it was Kalaya’s special Phuket crabmeat curry, never before seen on American shores and served with a melange of sides including rice vermicelli (similar to Vietnamese bun), cabbage, coins of Chinese long bean, cucumbers and (of course) red chili, that made our taste buds tingle.
During our multi-course meal, seasonal specialties like doubly explosive soft shell crabs displayed Suntaranon’s love for food. We say doubly explosive because they burst with juicy flavors of fresh crab with every bite….
They also possessed a capsaicin level that temporarily deprived Daryl of the ability to converse. Luckily, he had Thai iced tea on hand to calm his raging taste buds. As for Mindi, her taste buds were just fine.
Kalaya Thai Kitchen is located at 4 Palmer Street, Philadelphia, PA 19125.
Making an online reservation is the easiest option and can be done via the restaurant’s website or Resy. You can do this for groups up to ten up to 30 days in advance. However, be aware that Kalaya is one of the hottest reservations in town and books up every night of the week. Plan accordingly.
Kalaya’s shareable plates currently range in price from $14 to $95. Bowls of rice are $4, dumpling dishes are $18 and desserts are $10. As always, prices are subject to change.
Yes. Tipping is necessary at Philadelphia restaurants including Kalaya. We recommend leaving a 20% tip for good service and up to 25% for excellent service.
Kalaya doesn’t have a dress code. We recommend smart casual attire.
Taking a SEPTA train to the Berks station is the easiest option since parking is challenging in Fishtown. You can also drive or take an Uber to Kalaya. If you decide to drive, the Fishtown neighborhood has free street parking. However, be sure to check street signs for parking restrictions. You can alternatively pay to park at Kaylaya’s shared parking lot at the corner of Front & Oxford if you can’t find a spot on the street.
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About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
Original Publication Date: April 16, 2023