Chorney-Booth: Auttarote serves up friendly vibes alongside thoughtful Thai cuisine

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Anna Phonpackdee has long known she can make delicious Thai food. The chef has been honing her craft at different Thai restaurants around the city for some time but yearned for a restaurant of her own where she could put a personal touch on her dishes and serve them in a dining room that reflected her warm and welcoming personality. Phonpackdee’s dream came true this November with the opening of her impressive new restaurant Auttarote, which is quickly earning a loyal following with its exceptional food and bright, colourful space.

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Owners Anna Phonpackdee and Mouy Sawangsup pose at Auttarote Thai Cuisine restaurant. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

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Phonpackdee teamed up with business partner Mouy Sawangsup, who has a uniquely artistic eye thanks to her background in Thailand as a costume designer, to transform an otherwise uninspiring restaurant space on the second floor of a nondescript building on the edge of Chinatown, just across from the back side of the formidable Bow Building. The two restaurateurs spent three months painting, recovering furniture, sourcing artwork, and crafting lighting fixtures to create an oasis of a dining room. The 96-seat restaurant is roomy and simply pleasurable to be in, making the perfect backdrop for Phonpackdee’s food.

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Auttarote Thai Cuisine was decorated by the owner. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

Phonpackdee is a modest chef, but her food represents some of the best Thai fare in the city, with complex and subtle flavours delivered with a thoughtful plating style involving charming tableware and the liberal use of fresh flowers. The menu is fairly standard in terms of Thai dishes, but the kitchen puts in extra care to push everything beyond the typical. The pork-stuffed “flower” dumplings ($10.94) are shaped like ornate blue blossoms and dusted with flecks of gold; the shrimp tom yum soup ($7.95 for an individual serving) is suitably spicy and sour; the chicken green curry is delicately aromatic and filled out with chunks of pumpkin ($18.95) and the Crying Tiger, a plate full of grilled strips of smoky ribeye beef in a gently spiced sauce ($25.95) has become a house specialty. Of course, you’ve also got your pad thai, larb, papaya salad, satay skewers and other Thai favourites, all presented with impressive execution.

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A dish of Crying Tiger with ribeye beef is displayed at Auttarote Thai Cuisine restaurant is shown in downtown Calgary Thursday, January 25, 2024. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

Auttarote’s true strength, however, is the spirit and genuine hospitality of its owners. Phonpackdee and Sawangsup make an effort to check in on every table to ensure guests are enjoying themselves. Their collective dream was not just to have a place to make food, but to make customers feel at home.

“The name Auttarote means ‘enjoy everything’,” Sawangsup says. “We want people to enjoy watching, eating, and visiting with company here.”

Auttarote Thai Cuisine is located at 118 5th Ave. S.E. and can be reached at 403-225-5783 or through auttarotethaicuisine.com. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is closed on Mondays.

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Panang with red curry and coconut sauce at Auttarote Thai Cuisine restaurant. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

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There have been some big changes at National’s 10th Avenue S.W. location. After a lengthy closure, the flagship location is officially fully reopened and looks like a brand-new restaurant. The long communal bench-style tables have been replaced by chic booths and tables, turning it into a more versatile restaurant space as opposed to a dedicated beer hall.

It’s a more grown-up look, but that doesn’t mean National isn’t still up for some fun. The tables on the main floor make way for a dance floor in the late-night hours. The upstairs mezzanine is now home to a fleet of arcade games for those looking to shoot some hoops or toss a few bean bags. That upper level also still boasts the semi-secret Bourbon Room cocktail lounge (which has also been given a makeover) as well as a pair of karaoke lounges that can be operated through a video screen so that guests can sing their hearts out in relative privacy. The downstairs bowling alley has also been spruced up.

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While National is most often perceived as a beer parlour, it’s also a very good casual restaurant. While there is much overlap between its three locations’ menus, each has a few exclusive items. Be sure to try out the okonomiyaki tater tots, achiote tiger shrimp tacos, and mouth-numbing (in a good way) Szechuan chicken salad at the renovated location. This is also your reminder that National makes one of the most underrated pizzas in the city as well as a very impressive plate of chicken wings. National on 10th is located at 341 10th Ave. S.W. and can be reached at 403-474-2739 or through ntnl.ca.

Finally, the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest is back for another year. Throughout February, over 100 local restaurants, cafes, bars, and bakeries will be offering special and often over-the-top hot chocolate concoctions. The whole thing acts as a fundraiser for Calgary Meals on Wheels, last year raising over $100,000 to help battle food insecurity. This year’s participants include the Lazy Loaf and Kettle, The Coup, Primary Colours and many, many more. For a full list of vendors and hot chocolates or to vote for your favourites, visit yychotchocolate.com or download the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest app.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.

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