Chaba is the Thai name for the tropical hibiscus flower. Phraudomporn "Ben" Jimtachao describes the special flower as an offering given to the gods, in exchange for happiness, love, and kindness.
In the United States, Jimtachao has found and shared all those things.
"A friend asked me for help," Jimtachao says. At the age of 24, a job offer in Seattle allowed Jimtachao the chance to come to this country to live and work.
Learning to cook Thai from his family, a big family still back home, Jimtachao later worked at Thai restaurants in Florida and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
From his station in the kitchen, Jimtacho had a clear view of the sushi chefs at work and learned by watching them intently. When they needed a new sushi chef, Jimtachao applied for and got the job.
Jimtachao, chef/owner of Chaba Thai, along with Sandy Mason, front of the house/owner, were both born in Thailand, but their paths never crossed until Jimtachao met Mason when he went to her North Carolina restaurant to help her set up a sushi bar.
The co-owners are now also partners.
Ready to start a business together, the search for a location began. "I was looking for a small business," says Jimtachao.
The space in Central Square in Linwood that formerly housed a restaurant called Thai Basil was just the size they wanted. It was for sale.
Opening on Dec. 5, 2012, Chaba Thai has already gained a reputation for serving great food, and as a friendly place where those who may be unfamiliar with Thai food or sushi find a staff that's happy to explain any of the dishes on the menu.
"Please ask questions," says Jimtachao.
The Thai people traditionally eat a variety of dishes served together at the same time to be shared and enjoyed by all at the table. Sounds like a great idea when approaching the menu.
At Chaba Thai, daily lunch specials are $9.99, and include Thai jasmine rice, one spring roll, and soup or salad of the day. All specials can be made with shrimp instead of chicken for an additional $2 or substitute seafood for an additional $3.
Lunch offerings include Pad Thai made with chicken and rice noodles, bean sprouts, scallions, and crushed roasted peanuts. Many consider this dish to be the national dish of Thailand.
Jimtachao says the sauce makes the dish. His sweet and sour sauce is made from palm sugar and tamarind, a sour-tasting tropical pod that comes in paste form.
Pad Thai is made several ways in Thailand. "It can have chicken, shrimp, or tofu, and is good," says Jimtachao. "Beef is not very good."
Pad Thai is also mild on spices. Chaba Thai will alter the seasonings according to the customers' taste.
Other popular lunch choices range from red or green curry chicken, to chicken cashew, lemongrass chicken, or chicken with broccoli.
The a la carte menu has a large selection of appetizers, including crispy Thai spring rolls ($6.99), which Jimtachao calls the most popular; veggie spring rolls ($6.99); or healthy rolls ($7.99) made with steamed rice wrappers stuffed with steamed shrimp, rice vermicelli, carrots, cucumber, mango, and basil. They're served with a homemade peanut dipping sauce.
Other appetizer offerings include coconut shrimp ($6.99), calamari tempura ($7.99), and crispy chicken wings ($7.99), served with a homemade sweet and sour sauce.
Chicken satay ($7.99) and potstickers ($6.99) are also available.
Soup choices include Thai specialties like Tom Yum or Tom Kha, made with chicken, tofu, shrimp, squid, or seafood and priced accordingly. Tom in the name, means "to boil."
A selection of curry dishes include red, green, yellow, Massaman, Panang, or Phra Ram. "Red is normally mild and is good for people who don't like spicy," says Jimtachao.
Jimtachao describes the green as the hottest curry, but the yellow is spicier, an important difference. Panang uses more galangal, a rhizome similar to ginger; Massaman uses more peanut.
Again, the kitchen is happy to adjust spiciness and heat to taste.
Thai specialties, served with jasmine rice, run from $12.99 to $16.99 at dinner. Thai sweet and sour, Royal Vegetables, Ginger Lover, and Garlic & Peppers are among the possibilities.
Vegetarians will have no problem finding a wide selection of dishes on the Chaba Thai menu, including a meatless version of Pad Thai, drunken noodles, curry, ginger broccoli tofu, and Ka Prow Jae, a mixed fresh vegetable stir fry made with basil fried tofu in a chili-garlic sauce.
Chaba Special ($12.99) has cooked shrimp inside with mango and spicy Japanese mayonnaise; on top, tempura crumbs and three types of flying fish eggs, called tobiko, in green, red, and black. Atlantic City ($14.99) rolls are made with salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, and scallion inside, then topped with salmon, yellowtail, avocado, spicy mayo, eel sauce, and tobiko.
Alligator ($14.99) and Red Dragon rolls ($13.99/$14.99) both have shrimp tempura inside for crunch, but there the similarities end. Alligator rolls have BBQ eel, crab stick, and avocado, while Red Dragon rolls have avocado and asparagus, and are topped with tuna, red tobiko, and spicy mayo.
Chaba Thai offers more than a dozen more special makimono, along with all the recognizable sushi roll combinations.
Don't miss dessert at Chaba Thai, sweet sticky rice with mango, fried ice cream tempura, or fried cheesecake tempura, among others.
Ginger tea is homemade. Jimtachao describes it as "the best."
"The people love ginger tea, says Jimtachao. "We enjoy making the customer happy."