Low light, vermilion walls and wood filigrees delicately evoking ancient Siam make this West Seattle favorite on of the loveliest Thai restaurants around. But the crispy garlic chicken addicts—who know it simply as "crack chicken" and order it thrice-weekly—don't need the place to be beautiful. They just need their tender morsels of fried chicken, sauteéd in garlic, fired with chilies, and served over crisped basil alongside fragrant jasmine rice. They need it bad.
The West Seattle Herald
On the corner of 36th and Genesee a beautiful, little, red restaurant is in bloom. Introducing Buddha Ruksa Thai Cuisine. Pronounced poot-ta ruck-suw, the name signifies a Thai flower similar to the gladiola which literally translates to "safe and well under the protection of Buddha." The elegant, red blossom is also the favorite flower of His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej of Thailand whom the restaurant honors by choosing this name. Along with the flower comes royalty, simplicity and simply some of the best Pad Thai in the neighborhood. Buddha Ruksa, founded by Anucha "Nui" Onongard and Michael Hootman, opened on Jan. 6. Hootman is a Boeing employee with a love for food and a knack for the business side of the venture.
Onongard hails from Lopburi, Thailand just north of Bangkok and brings
years of experience in Thai restaurants as well as a handful of family
Onongard moved to Seattle in 1993. He first worked for a Thai restaurant in West Seattle and then served and managed for nearly eight years at the Noodle Studio in Broadway. The restaurateur chose West Seattle for two reasons: "Restaurant work requires many hours and I wanted work to be close to home," he says. "Also West Seattle is a very good neighborhood with sweet people and a real community feel."
"I wanted a nice restaurant in a nice neighborhood," he says. "A small operation with good, fresh, authentic Asian food." The menu is inspired largely by Onongard's mother who still resides in Thailand. "My mom is a very good cook," grins her proud son. "My sister Anita moved over here to be my cook and uses those same recipes."
Sure Buddha Ruksa serves your typical swimming rama and multi-colored
curries, but there are also a few of "mom's" items here you
won't find on other Thai menus. For example, two appetizers straight from
the Onongard home are: Prawns in a Blanket, (made with garlic and pepper
marinated prawns wrapped in a spring roll and deep fried golden brown
then served with a sweet garlic-chili sauce) and Kra-Thong-Tong, (golden
pastry cups filled with curried ground chicken, shrimp and vegetables
and served with a cucumber salad).
Besides everyone's favorite Pad Thai, Onongard says the Crispy Garlic Chicken sautéed with basil is a real hit.
With a new special every week, Onongard aims to keep things fresh and interesting while experimenting with new flavors and styles one week at a time.
Thai restaurant offers adventurous dishes in an environment awash in ambience.
Situated in a little green house not far from the western terminus of the West Seattle bridge, Buddha Ruksa's got more ambience than most Thai restaurants.
The walls are paneled in dark wood and decorated with wooden carvings. The casual elegance equally absorbs couples, families with kids, blue-collar workers and business lunchers. The food is more adventurous than in many Thai establishments. Classic dishes are well represented, but there are some twists, such as trout salad ($9.95), prawns and pumpkin curry ($12.95), and six preparations of crispy duck.
The trout salad, off the dinner menu (which Buddha Ruksa will offer for lunch or dinner), was striking. A butterflied, boneless filet serves as the bed for a lime-dressed jumble of cabbage, carrot, peanuts, lemongrass and cilantro. The larb gai ($8.50), minced chicken in a spicy lime dressing, was hotter than most, even at two out of four stars. This version is filled with cilantro, mint and basil.
My favorite dish is the deservedly popular crispy garlic chicken ($9.50), a generous heaping of fried chicken nuggets in a dark garlic sauce, served with crispy basil leaves.
A Thai friend who has eaten Thai food all over the country and describes herself as picky about the cuisine, tried the lunch pad thai ($7.25). Our shared theory is that pad thai is a good barometer for gauging the rest of the menu.
She pronounced this version "complete and pretty good" and said she could taste all of the flavors. It wasn't too dry like many can be, or sopping wet like other renditions. The plump shrimp were cooked just right.
I could smell -- and then taste -- the fresh lime leaves perfuming the red curry ($7.25), which was generously portioned. But bags of gold ($7.95) didn't make for an exciting appetizer. There was too much crispy fried dough overwhelming the skimpy bundle of meat and fillings.
At lunch, you may have to be a bit patient, as one server often handles the entire room. But the chow is worth it. See the article.
The Seattle Weekly
“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly. West Seattle may seem out of the way when it comes to dining destina¬tions, but the chance to savor this bait is worth the effort to weave your web in a westerly direction. Three words: crispy garlic chicken. Get to know them; after you find this hidden Thai food haven, they may become your dining obsession. Bite-size morsels of boneless chicken are battered and fried to perfection, then sautéed in a sticky garlic glaze and served on a bed of crispy basil. Also exceptional, the prawns and pumpkin curry: an exquisite blending of red curry, coconut milk, cubed pumpkin, and prawns. Delightful in harmony, yet each flavor retains its distinct voice. Selections are many; portions are ample and beautifully plated with incredible attention to detail-which you would expect, given the gorgeous dark-walled interior. Chile heads: Be sure to sample the house-made blend of pepper flakes when you request the condiment tray.
The Seattle Times
Buddha Ruksa is just shy of Thai-food Nirvana
What do you look for in a Thai restaurant? If you’re after a decent chicken satay and pad Thai, Buddha Ruksa, which sits on an unassuming corner just off the bridge in West Seattle, can hook you up. It’s one of the better Thai restaurants in town.
They have an interesting wine list, the menu is innovative, and the service is friendly and considerate. And you can hop off this bus now, because it’s about to veer off in a cranky direction.
Buddha Ruksa’s food prompted smiles and nods from a table of frequent eaters of Thai. In fact, the food was good enough to be frustrating: It was so close to being great, but it never quite got there.
In order to move you to the heights of pleasure of which it is capable, Thai food needs to be firing on all cylinders. A typical dish will be sweet, sour, salty and spicy hot, with no one flavor dominating. In other words, Thai food is balanced but not subtle.
At Buddha Ruksa, this principle kept going slightly awry. Several entrees were too sweet. And one unfortunate dish didn't seem to offer any of the four flavors.
Perhaps this is because I steered us toward more unusual choices. But shouldn't those be the menu standouts — the dishes the restaurant is so excited about, they put them on the menu even though few patrons will have tried them?
In addition to the selections listed below, the menu offers rare and alluring options like a northeastern Thai trio of papaya salad, sticky rice and grilled chicken ($14.95), and the northern Thai curry noodle Kao Soy ($7.25). The latter is a bowl of spicy noodle soup that comes with a nest of crispy fried noodles on top and tart preserved mustard greens on the side.
The wine list at Buddha Ruksa is serious and reasonably priced, with many wines by the glass, including such gems as an Albrecht Alsatian Pinot Gris ($27/bottle, $8/glass). Its oblong dining room is comfortable and can get loud as it fills up — which it often does, since this is a popular spot.
Let me be clear. Buddha Ruksa is a very good Thai restaurant. Whether they downshift into standard fare or make the leap to the top rank along with places like May in Wallingford and Noodle Boat in Issaquah remains to be seen. Either would be fine, but today, they’re posed on the edge.
Trout Salad: Many Thai restaurants, here and abroad, serve a whole fried fish stuffed with various savories. Buddha Ruksa has that dish, too, but this is its clever cousin: a whole filleted trout fried and topped with a tangy (though too sweet) salad of cabbage, lemongrass and scallions. Dig down for a bite of fish with each forkful of salad — and don’t miss the skin.
Wonton Pad Thai: What happens when you replace the rice noodles in pad Thai with crispy chicken-stuffed wontons? “Hey, this is good,” we kept saying, partly out of surprise. With more sauce and bean sprouts than a typical pad Thai, this unusual recasting is crunchy and sweet but ultimately successful.
Forest Curry: If a curry falls in the forest ... sorry. This dish, a curry without coconut milk, is supposed to be like a beef- vegetable soup so intense that it has to be served over rice. Here it was so bland that it wasn't satisfying even without the rice, and the beef was tough.
Mango Delight: Mango with sticky rice is the ultimate in rice pudding: rich, addictive, hard to improve upon. Here it’s served with a scoop of mango ice cream, which doesn’t hurt a bit.