IN THE KITCHEN Tien Tran studied architecture and engineering in college, but managing his Hopkinton restaurant, Pan Thai, has taken him back to the training he received while working as a teenager in Boston restaurants. He and his wife, Orjit, who met as college students, originally opened Pan Thai near Symphony Hall in Boston, and commuted daily to the city from their home in Hopkinton. In August 2013, they moved the business to Hopkinton. Tien Tran oversees the kitchen, while Orjit Tran manages the business and servers. They have experienced staff, many of whom followed the restaurant when it moved to the suburbs. “In Boston, you have to know what you’re doing,” Tien Tran said of the competition among the city’s Thai restaurants. “Once we were here, we brought our experience out here.”
THE LOCALE The restaurant is on Main Street at Church Street, in the center of downtown Hopkinton, in what appears to have been a single-family house. The interior is comfortable, with a horseshoe-shaped bar and seating near a fireplace. A small patio overlooking Main Street can be used during warm weather months. Inside the main room, a flat-screen TV is installed above the fireplace, but is not intrusive. The Trans painted the room and added pendant lighting and framed Thai prints, but otherwise did not restructure the interior. The space had been home to another restaurant, and so few changes were required, Tien Tran said. Free parking is available on both Main and Church streets. Takeout is a popular option.
ON THE MENU As in Boston, Pan Thai’s menu incorporates seasonal ingredients into daily specials. A recent special, for example, featured butternut squash curry. Most of the specialty Thai ingredients in the dishes, such as lemongrass and fresh Thai basil, are purchased in Boston’s Chinatown. This has been the single greatest challenge of operating the restaurant in Hopkinton, Tien Tran said; if the kitchen runs out of an ingredient, he sometimes has to dispatch someone to Boston. Moreover, shipping food from the city adds to their operational costs. Still, he said, prices have been kept consistent with what a nicer family restaurant would charge. And the portions are ample.
The menu includes several appetizers from $4 to $6, a large number of Thai curry options, and numerous choices for entrees under chef’s and house specials. Some of the signature dishes include the pad Thai noodle dish, a popular choice, from $10 for a dinner portion with vegetables and tofu up to $12 for seafood. Tamarind duck also is a specialty, at $17.
Pan Thai offers a spiciness rating system, with one to three chile peppers next to menu items showing levels of increasing “hotness.” I had the butternut squash curry for dinner, with a two-pepper rating. It was delicious, but about as much as I could handle on the spice scale. I opted for a “no-chile-pepper’’ house special of pineapple with chicken for lunch the following day, at $7.50, and found it too mild.
Customers are encouraged to tell the server how they want their dish, said Orjit Tran, with the chef able to adjust the spiciness for any item very simply.
Pan Thai, 15 Main St., Hopkinton; 508-497-9919, www.panthairestaurant.com
Mary MacDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.