It’s hip to be considered a hole-in-the-wall—a place so small, so inconspicuous that visitors feel like they’ve come across something truly special. Pat Tharachai’s udon take-out shop on Stone Way N near the corner of N 45th Street is quite literally a hole in the wall. But that hasn’t (yet, anyway) turned this place into the coolest spot in town.
There’s no line wrapping around the block, only a couple of people leaning against the bus stop post, waiting for the 16. There’s no visible address, though Tharachai has invested in some sunny signage that advertises his “fresh home-style udon.” No Facebook page or Twitter account. Not a single Yelp review. “I don’t even have a name for it!” Tharachai laughs.
But for the last two months, the Bangkok expat (who previously ran a restaurant in Los Angeles) has been slinging noodle soup—with choice of tofu and vegetable, curried chicken, curried pork, roast chicken, or roast pork—from the blink-and-you’d-miss-it walk-up window. For a few months before that, he was selling sandwiches, but he says the shift in weather signaled a shift in his business plan also.
Tharachai says he opted for the thick Japanese noodles because he doesn’t have the exhaust system for stir-frying Thai noodle dishes like pad thai, and he thought Thai noodle soups—called kuay tiew—would be too unfamiliar to sell well. And pho would be far too competitive, he says.
But this is not the sort of udon you’d find in Japan, or even in the U District at U:Don. From a couple of Crock-Pots, a microwave, a propane camping stove, and what looks a lot like the George Forman grill I had in college, Tharachai layers veggies, noodles, meat, and soup into steaming take-out containers. The roast chicken (actually grilled) is heady with garlic, the broth much sweeter—likely from the dark, sweet soy sauce used in pad see ew—than a traditional dashi. He’s not making his own noodles, but “the sauce that goes into it is different,” Tharachai says. “I make it simple, and I know I’m good at it.”
When he’s not entertaining customers and charming passersby—he lives in the neighborhood and seems to know everyone who walks past—Tharachai reads the newspaper and “daydreams about what I want to do here.” Now in his 60s, with twinkling eyes that peak out from under a burgundy beret, he channels his entrepreneurial spirit into dreams of expanding, drawing more business, maybe opening a second location. I get the impression, though, that the daydream is enough for him, enough for him to know “I still have a fire left.”
Tharachai mans his udon stand Monday through Saturday from 11 to 6. It’s cash only, but he’s the sort of guy that trusts people to come back and pay him the next day if you haven't got $8 on you. All the tips he collects are donated to Solid Ground.