What: The tom yum gai with chicken
Where: Uncle Chai Thailand Street Food, in The Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage
How much: $7
Why: It’s delicious, pure and simple.
When I walked into Uncle Chai Thailand Street Food to meet my colleague Matt for lunch, my heart sunk.
It was a little after noon, and there was just one other table occupied. This interior restaurant space in The Atrium has developed a reputation, of sorts, as a place where restaurants open—and then promptly die. There’s not a lot of foot traffic inside this little mall, and there’s even less since CVRep moved to its permanent playhouse in Cathedral City several years ago.
After I was seated, however, the restaurant slowly began to fill—and by the time Matt and I were finished with our meal, Uncle Chai was hosting a decidedly decent-sized lunch crowd, especially for a Monday in June.
Two things give me hope that Uncle Chai will succeed here where others haven’t. One: This is not Uncle Chai’s first time at the figurative rodeo. This is the second Uncle Chai location; the first one opened in San Diego in early 2021. Two: All of the food Matt and I ordered was pretty gosh-darned good.
Uncle Chai’s menu is more limited than those at some other Thai joints—there are about a dozen and a half entrée offerings, along with a couple of salads, a couple of soups, four appetizers and one dessert—but the kitchen seems to be emphasizing quality over quantity.
The highlight of our meals was the tom yum gai soup with chicken, a hot-and-sour concoction featuring lemongrass, tomatoes, mushrooms, cilantro and lime leaves. Tom yum gai has long been a favorite of mine. (I’ve endorsed it at two other restaurants as well.) It’s fairly easy to make a decent version, but rather difficult to make an excellent one—and Uncle Chai’s version is excellent indeed.
Try it out—and help Uncle Chai break the figurative Atrium curse.