[Johnny Acurso, 4/8/13]
Five years after first making her debut in a bright yellow-and-red downtown food cart, Nong Poonsukwattana has made it official at her first legit sit-down restaurant, transforming SE Ankeny's former Origami Catering space into a 36-seat spot where guests can enjoy Nong's Khao Man Gai, her signature chicken and rice.
According to Poonsukwattana, the space takes several cues from traditional khao man gai stands to capture the "homeland spirit": The space is dotted with gifts from friends (like the hanging squeaky rubber chickens, from a friend in Japan), and the series of hand-lettered signs throughout the space, with phrases like "thank you for your support" in Thai. Clusters of bananas hang from the ceiling near the rolling garage door, and they were an idea borrowed from restaurants in Japan and Hawaii, which often display produce outside. "I don't want to be the same, so it's my version of that," Poonsukwattana says. "So if people cannot find me, they can say, 'Oh, the one that has the bananas.'"
Like Nong's former take-out window, the restaurant is counter service only — with a station set up offering complimentary hot tea — and offers Poonsukwattana's expanded menu of pork and rice, chicken wings, and chicken in peanut sauce. In the evenings, the space will transition from chicken kitchen to production space for Nong's bottled sauces (a fiery new chili sauce is in the works), and while beer is still part of the plan, Poonsukwattana notes that it's still probably a month away.