-Grubbing in Chicago(land)
A Thai Dessert Paradise in Forest Park
As the 2021 calendar year nears it's end I thought it would be smart to get today's post up. That's bc I'd put Habrae in Forest Park on any "best new restaurants in Chicago" list I'm asked to make. Habrae is a mom and pop owned Thai restaurant located on Madison which is the towns busy business strip. It's owned by a Thai couple who met in Chicago and at the time neither of them were in the restaurant business. I learned their story through a terrific feature in the Reader written by the great Mike Sula.
Recently Opened in Forest Park
Habrae was born out of a love for the Bangkok treats of it's dessert chefs youth. The restaurant officially opened last summer after a stint selling homemade Thai desserts to local Thai owned groceries around town. It's quite astonishing when you consider this is all rather new for the couple as it's such a well put together spot and the desserts are spot on. But more on those further down in this review bc they do savory food too. The menu consists of a bunch of Thai style Hors-d'œuvres to start. On one visit we tried their chicken curry rolls which were clearly made on site judging from the unique combo of ingredients. I might as well note that most of the items here are made on site including the desserts we're going to get to later. The little individual rolls of chicken curry mixed with purple sweet potato, onion, and oyster sauce are an extra satisfying way to start your meal. It's important to note that menu specials are a regular occurrence here. If you follow on instagram you can get a heads up as far as anything special and unique that they’re offering.
Chicken Curry Rolls at Habrae Cafe
There's everyday offerings listed under soups, noodles and rice. Most of them are homestyle Thai dishes like khao soi. I've been a big time fan of the Northern Thai noodle dish ever since enjoying it in Chiang Mai even though it'll never get as good as it does in the Rose of the North. That doesn't mean that a great bowl cant be had over here, it's just a bit different. Don't get me wrong I've had plenty of enjoyable bowls of Khao Soi in the States including the version served at Habrae. In fact this will be on my 'best bites of the year' list which is coming out next week. It's one of the most satisfying bowls of noodles I’ve had this year and that's bc it hit all the notes one wants from a bowl of soft noodles sitting in a thick coconut curry sauce with tender thinly sliced beef. You can tell they don't just throw this bowl together. It's made as if it's a dessert and each ingredient portion needs to be exact. Very well done.
Khao Soy at Habrae Cafe
Moving down on the noodle portion of the menu you'll find the empire noodles or "rad na" which is another terrific Thai comfort food. Crispy egg noodles are loaded up with a medium in viscosity gravy mixed with marinated pork and Chinese broccoli. The noodles soften as they sit so this dish had two different textures going for it as far as the portion ate right away and anything that was eaten after that.
Habrae Empire (Rard Nar Moo Noom)
When Habrae first opened they were a dessert shop exclusively. In the first pic of this post you can see there's a glass case displaying some of the desserts they make on site. In there you'll find options like charcoal pudding and Toddy Palm Cake (Khanom Tan). Those options are more so made to be taken home and in many cases heated up. Try the Ube pudding if you see it, you really cant go wrong with chunks of taro pearls in a warm coconut cream liquid. A great wintertime dessert even though Thailand is a place that stays pretty hot. Habrae also does some savory desserts like roti and Kluay Ping which is Thai style grilled banana which comes covered in a luscious caramel sauce. I haven't even had a chance to try their dessert roti offerings as the menu here is loaded with gems.
Kluay Ping (Thai Style Grilled Banana)
On top of a couple handful of dessert items that I want to try they also have some special ones that aren't always available but you might as well ask if they’re available. Actually in the three visits I've made they've always been out of something as far as the desserts go and that's to be expected when they make them all on site and I'm pretty sure it's just her and maybe a couple family members that help while he runs the front of the house. But you would have to be quite picky to not find something sweet worth trying from here whether it's the Thai style ice creams (offered as a sandwich if desired) or this unique (in Chicago) dish called Lod Chang. It's pandan noodles (which she makes on site) sitting next to a mixture of crushed ice, palm sugar, and coconut syrup. I didn't really get introduced to Asian desserts until 4 or 5 years ago and these days I cant get enough. You could go to Thailand and do a trip that revolves just around all the amazing desserts they offer and Mike Sula's story in the Reader dives further into why that is and also how they came about being served in Forest Park. To me the best new restaurants shouldn't just be new in age but also in innovation as far as what they're bringing to the local scene and there's really not alot of spots like Habrae Cafe around town.
Lod Chang at Habrae Cafe
Habrae Cafe7230 Madison St
Forest Park, IL 60130
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