When a new restaurant opens in the pandemic times, it's like a baby being born with all the majesty and miracle of life ooohs and aaaahs. Santa Fe's newest little restaurant-baby is Thai on Canyon (802 Canyon Road, 309-9024), which, as the name suggests, is a Thai restaurant that is indeed on Canyon Road, right beside El Farol. The location's a bit curious for an area that has traditionally catered more to the countless tourists milling about in search of that Santa Fe experience, but nevertheless, the new spot is brought you by the folks from Midtown brunchy/bakery spot Madame Matisse, and we've needed more Thai joints in this town since always. Lovely!
Originally scheduled for a 2020 opening, you-know-what happened, forcing owner Siriporn "JJ" Khongkabrirat to pause. With the lower COVID-19 numbers and relaxing health orders of late, however, the lead-up to spring and summer feels as good a time as any to get noodling, so to speak.
First things first: Thai on Canyon is a takeout-only spot for now, it's closed on Tuesdays and the service is stellar. Perhaps it's trivial to laud how the employee on the phone was "remarkably clear, professional, exact and simple," but those are, verbatim, the words my partner used after placing our order. Sadly, a popularity boom meant a number of items were unavailable—which is actually kind of a good sign for a newer place—but even the experience of picking up was pleasant. Thai on Canyon's workers were speedy and friendly with nary a negative vibe. Experience, particularly at this juncture in human history, can shine through and make all the difference.
We began with the buddha dumplings, a delightful stuffed number with chicken, drenched in a green curry-coconut sauce with basil and bell pepper. Even as an appetizer, the small size was initially off-putting, but it wound up being a blessing in disguise: small or not, each was packed with flavor. The sauce packed an aromatic punch, and while a little pricey for a starter ($8.95 for five), if you have splurge money it's worth a try. Shouldn't any good palate-teaser excite you for what comes next?
Pad Thai is the Thai food go-to dish, and it's safe to say if a restaurant can't pull it off, there's not much hope for the rest of the menu. Never fear—Thai on Canyon's ($14.95 with chicken, $15.95 with shrimp) sent me to my happy place. Thai restaurants don't always have the best rice noodles, and nothing hurts a meal like a soggy order. Here, though, the noodles found the right middle ground between tender and gelatinous, and the generous portion includes egg, and bean sprouts, which added a great little crunch. The order was so large, in fact, we managed to make the pad Thai a two-day leftover affair.
After that came the pad kee mao, otherwise known as the drunken noodle (also $14.95 with chicken, tofu, or vegetables, $15.95 with shrimp). These were thicker and flatter rice noodles, nicely sautéed with basil, bell pepper, tomatoes and green beans. The requisite Thai chili was there, too, of course, and despite our dedication to spicy New Mexican dishes, this one kicked our asses. It didn't feel hot for the sake of it, however, so consider it a challenge rather than a warning.
Overall, both dishes felt well-considered. Every ingredient added a welcome flavor, and nothing was over or under-cooked, while the tender chicken and delicious vegetables came together in a melange that feels almost miraculous, given Thai on Canyon's recent opening date. The restaurant also feels properly geared toward locals, making it easy to imagine some point in the future when we'll dine on the patio and gawk at passing tourists.
On a street that errs more toward expensive fine dining experiences, Thai on Canyon's mid-range pricing feels like a win for more everyday folks. The options are simple and lacking in pretentiousness—they're just good, solid Thai dishes done well. It'll remind you of better days.
Editors note: After this piece published, Thai on Canyon began offering indoor dining at 25% capacity.