Food & dining

Cheap Eats

Phu-Ket is a hidden Thai gem in Wakefield

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Beef salad.

Phuket Thai Wakefield, which opened a year and a half ago, was purchased by a new chef, Maeo Crawford, about five months ago. Located on a residential side street, it’s still something of a hidden gem. But with solid Thai specialties, friendly service, and charming decor, it won’t stay secret for long. (Another Phuket restaurant in West Roxbury has a different ownership.)

This is a family restaurant to the core: Crawford does all the cooking, with the help of her mother, Sukanya Thuansuk, and she’s quick to give credit to her brother for sharing many recipes on the menu. Whether you’re having lunch or dinner, you’re likely to spot Crawford running from the kitchen to the dining room in her chef’s whites. She’s greeting guests, running food, and answering the phone between tickets.

You’ll find a tidy dining room anchored by a cut-stone accent wall lined with built-in burgundy banquettes. Tables are draped in white cloths and topped with leather-bound menus. These touches make a restaurant priced for takeout feel worthy of date night.

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We arrive on a rainy night to a mostly empty restaurant, and start with Thai chicken salad ($8), Crawford’s take on traditional larb, a Thai-Laotian specialty. Flavorful ground chicken is tossed with crunchy red bell pepper, sliced mushrooms, and scallion, in an addictive dressing, all piled on red leaf lettuce leaves. We miss the typical topping of toasted raw rice crunchies, but the balance of sweet-tart dressing, savory meat, and crunchy veggies keeps us coming back for just one more bite.

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Fried dumplings ($6) have bubbly golden-fried exteriors, and a juicy chicken filling spiked with ginger and garlic. They are the perfect little pockets dipped in a umami-packed, syrupy soy sauce, which leaves us licking our sticky fingers.

The main course of duck choo chee ($17) is presented as half a cut-up bird bathed in a fragrant coconut curry sauce. It’s billed as fairly hot, but because we have a sensitive eater in the group we ask for it without spice, and Crawford happily obliges. The succulent meat and tender-crisp veggies are full of flavor even in this toned-down version.

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Chef Maeo Crawford and her mother, Sukanya Thuansuk.

Phuket noodles with tofu ($10) is a colorful plate of spinach-dyed pasta tossed with a rainbow of veggies — summer squash, zucchini, bell peppers, carrots, and scallion, stir-fried with curry powder. You can add meat ($1) or seafood ($2) but we found the vegetarian version plenty flavorful.

If you have a carnivorous craving, try the beef salad ($11). Bite-size pieces of sirloin with an appealing char are tossed with tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, and a secret spice blend, served over lettuce leaves. It’s even better washed down with an icy Singha beer ($4.50).

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There’s a glaring misnomer on the menu. Spicy lobster soup ($6) isn’t made with our favorite local crustacean, but rather with chunks of faux-crab (think California roll) bobbing in the otherwise tasty sweet-and-sour coconut broth.

A seafood dish worth sampling is shrimp himmapan ($13.) The dish of stir-fried shrimp, pineapple, bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, and more, in a light honey-lemon sauce, topped with crunchy cashews, is a real crowd-pleaser.

But what’s missing here are the crowds. Once the neighbors discover they can enjoy a fine dinner out for the price of delivery, Phuket Thai Wakefield is bound to get a lot busier.

Phuket Noodle with fried chicken over spinach noodle, curried mixed vegetables and dried onions at Phu-Ket restaurant in Wakefield. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Names, smartc)
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Phuket noodle topped with fried chicken.

Catherine Smart can be reached at cathjsmart@gmail.com.