Chandler restaurant cited by national media as ‘exciting’ - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler restaurant cited by national media as ‘exciting’

October 24th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chandler restaurant cited by national media as ‘exciting’

By Ken Sain
Arizonan Managing Editor

The restaurant with the most buzz in Chandler is not a fancy place.

Thaily’s is small, only seven tables for inside dining. It’s located inside an older building in the city’s Galveston neighborhood.

As is usually the case, looks can be deceiving. If you want dinner at the restaurant, reservations are required. On Oct. 5, they were booked through the end of the month.

Having the New York Times declare a restaurant are one of the 50 places in America they are most excited about right now can do that for an eatery.

What makes Thaily’s stand out is they are likely the only Cambodian-Arabic fusion restaurant in the world.

“Based on the articles that have been written about us, it was brought to my attention that we are the only one,” said Lee Kambar, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Thai. “Which is kind of cool.”

That fusion came about because of their marriage. Thai is Cambodian and Lee Iranian.

“I just like to experiment,” Thai said. “Arabic foods use turmeric spice a lot, so I just wondered how turmeric would taste in this broth, or this soup. And I like to watch old, old traditional cooking videos, of grandmas cooking in Iraq, or Cambodia. Then I started cooking those dishes myself at home.”

It had long been a dream to own their own restaurant and the pandemic gave them reason to pursue it. They opened in the spring of 2021 and in about a year they’ve earned national, if not international, attention.

Lee said they had no idea a Times food critic was eating at their restaurant.

“She contacted us a couple of weeks after the fact,” Lee said. “And you know, pretty much stated that she came to see our restaurant and she loved our food and she feels that she has got to write about us because everybody needs to know about it.”

An editor called a little later, wanting to send a photographer. Lee and Thai said they thought it might just be a regular feature and they had no idea they were going to be included in a top 50 list.

When it published life began to change. They had to start accepting reservations only for dinner and are now considering plans to expand. They say are looking to open a second restaurant, either in Chandler or Gilbert.

Thaily’s was named after one daughter. The second restaurant would be named after their other daughter, Leelah’s.

For anyone unfamiliar with Cambodian or Arabic food, it will look familiar. Thailand is a neighbor of Cambodia and many of the dishes on Thaily’s menu would look at home on a Thai restaurant’s menu.

The highlight of the Arabic side of the menu are gyros, which Lee admits is originally Greek.

“The original gyros in Greece were made out of pork, not lamb or beef,” Lee said. “The way that I make it leans toward the Iraqi style, because beside the meat and pita bread, nothing else is Greek. I’m using recipes that I grew up on as a child.”

While it will take a reservation and a wait to get dinner at Thaily’s, there are still some openings for lunch. If you come at the right time, you can skip the reservations and wait to taste their mix of Cambodian and Arabic foods.

While the dishes may look similar, what the New York Times and others have loved is it’s a new experience.

“There’s a similarity between all South Asian dishes, but the fact that she puts my spices on it, that gives it a whole different spin and a whole different taste,” Lee said.