KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross

posted on May 24, 2009 at 4:12 am

KoKai Thai Bistro is a perfect example of why I adore the tips readers send me. I’d seen this restaurant a while back when we drove up to check out the food court in the Hong Kong Supermarket. But I wasn’t enticed to return until I got a tip from a reader, Anne Wittle, claiming it reminded her of her time in Thailand. Anne wrote me the following after I asked her what dishes she recommended:

Everything we’ve had was good but their noodles are great. Where else in Atlanta do you find Yen Ta Fo or Boat Noodles? The Khao Pad Kai (fried rice with chicken) is great although it could use just a bit more tomato to be like my favorite vendor in NakornPathom. The pad ka pow kai (chicken with basil) and pad khing kai (ginger chicken) were just like my host Mom used to cook. All of the curries were spot on. The potak is perfect and I can’t wait to go back to try the Tum Yum and the Pad Thai.The owner is super nice and came out to chat with us about real Thai food. He says he can make other dishes too with a bit of notice. Also, there were a few things they had that were not on the menu so ask if there’s anything special that day – you never know what you’ll get.

Moon is a Thai food fanatic. His brother lives in Los Angeles and he always returns moaning about how Atlanta has no good Thai food. I always say Nan is a great spot, but it is on the pricey side. So, I am always looking for new spots to appease his cravings. Nothing ever does the trick. But our first visit to KoKai Thai Bistro had Moon exclaiming he’d finally found something to scratch his Thai itch.

The restaurant advertises that is serves authentic Thai street food. The space is very modern with loads of light and a cutesy counter designed to look like a fake street cart. There are abstract pictures of chickens and eggs everywhere–I assume “KoKai” must mean chicken in Thai.
Lighting fixtures and rafters

The “street cart” counter

The menu is all high-gloss pictures of basic Thai dishes–nothing out of the ordinary. We ordered a handful of dishes to test the waters. First up: drinks.
Rose tea: One thing that perplexes me about all of the Asian restaurants in Georgia is their tea selection. Tea is such an integral part of most Asian cultures. Yet, diners are normally given basic black tea. However, KoKai offers at least one premium tea selection: The rose tea. It’s served in these beautiful glass tea pots where you can watch the blooms expand and fill the middle chamber as it steeps. As lovely on the tongue as it was on the eyes.

Thai iced tea: Moon’s brother ordered this and I just had to take a photo. Pure sex in a glass.

Larb kai: Our first dish and our table’s favorite of the meal. Crumbled pieces of chicken mixed with red onion in a slightly spicy and tangy sauce with that underlying pungency Thai food is known for. You wrap the chicken in the little cabbage cups and eat it taco-style. Add a little chile paste or chopped chiles and you have a textural smack-down full of intense flavors.

Condiments: an assortment of blazing Thai accoutrements. The tiny green chiles are mixed with lime and fish sauce. The larger green chiles (in the back) are the spiciest.

Nua Toob: The restaurant calls this “beef jerky.” The meat was chewy, but super flavorful. And the tangy and smoky red sauce was perfect against the fat of the meat. We all loved it. There is also a pork version.

Pad Thai: Yes, this dish is incredibly ubiquitous and boring for some. But this is a litmus dish for me that I really love when it is done well. We chose shrimp and fried tofu. The noodles were lightly coated in sauce and chile powder. The sauce was thankfully not cloying, but there could have been a touch more sauce. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and the pillowy tofu was lightly crisped on the outside. A good dish, but not the best I have had. However, I would order it again.

Basil fried rice: We ordered this “Thai hot,” but it was pretty tame. No matter. It was gorgeous. The basil added a slight sweetness to the crisped rice and tender pieces of chicken. I mixed in a little of the pickled green chiles and it was perfect. It was gone in a flash.


Red red chicken curry: Moon loves his Thai curries. He said the flavor profile of this curry–which we ordered in lieu of the beef curry they were out of–was spot on. However, he said he would have liked it to be a bit thicker and more intensely spicy. I thought it was pretty good, but I am not a huge fan of Thai curries. I prefer denser types like Indian or Japanese.

Verdict: An incredibly cute and tasty Thai place that is definitely worth a visit. In the true spirit of street food, our orders came out in a flash. Our only complaint as a group was that they could have made things much spicier. But the condiments on the table remedied any lack of heat. We all agreed we’d return because we enjoyed our meal and there is still so much to explore.

Address: 5495 Jimmy Carter Boulevard. Norcross, 30093

Kokai Thai Bistro on Urbanspoon
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  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: Broderick · May 24, 2009  5:50 AM

    It looks like a road trip OTP is in order, this place looks great

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: Anonymous · May 24, 2009  9:27 AM

    No good Thai food in Atlanta huh? Panita Thai kitchen Virginia Highlands (behind Surin)!

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: cw · May 24, 2009  3:12 PM

    so excited!! but curious -the bf eats vegan + fish. how is there non-meat selection?

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: Jonathan · May 25, 2009  6:59 AM

    Agree 100% on Panita Thai. I can’t believe that we live 4 blocks away and ignored it for years.

    The (owner/host/chef)? is very charming, the decor is wildly eccentric/romantic with a great little courtyard. The menu is immense, but everything we’ve had has been very, very good. Not having been to Thailand, I assume it is more street/country style authentic than most. The vegetables super fresh, flavors brighter, more intense, everything looking and tasting as if it was put together only a minute or so before hitting your plate.

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: Es · May 25, 2009  7:24 PM

    Chicken is just “kai.” Rice is “khao” and galangal is “kha.” Not sure what the “ko” means!

    Looks like a great spot! I see Little Bangkok on Cheshire Bridge is not on your list of reviewed restaurants. That’s a fairly reliable spot in town I think.

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: swj · May 27, 2009  5:21 PM

    “Ko Kai” is the first letter of the alphabet. Yes, “kai” is chicken. Thai letters are usually the sound followed by a noun… like “Ah Apple”

    Can’t wait to try it. Why is it so far away? =(

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: Anonymous · May 27, 2009  7:21 PM

    I went there and tried three dishes…the best by far was the Basil Fried Rice…amazing.

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: Anonymous · May 31, 2009  10:45 AM

    We ate there on Thursday and it was a huge disappointment. We found the food very bland and meat was overcooked in all dishes except soup. We had a couple of noodle dishes, one curry, one rice and two apps plus soup.
    Overall, Little Bangkok, the family run hole in the wall on Cheshire Bridge with reasonable prices, almost always delivers consistently great Thai food.
    I’ve traveled all over Thailand 6 different times and believe I understand the food well.

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: Anonymous · June 1, 2009  1:46 PM

    Thanks for the recommendation! We went there with a group of friends on Sunday for lunch and ordered the Pad Thai shrimp, Yen Ta Fu, and the Boat Noodle. They were all very good. I have been to Thailand several times and the entrees reminded of the food that we had there. Brought back great memories! The prices there were very reasonable (all under $7) and the portion is just like any other Thai restaurants. I think it is worthy to mention that their lunch and dinner menu is the same price!! I am telling my friends about this place! Thanks!

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: Johnny · June 3, 2009  12:26 PM

    I work near KoKai and I have to say, the Thai Beef Salad (Nu Nam Tok) is one of the best I have ever had.

    Another local new restaurant in that area is Karachi Broast. It is a Halil restaurant that is somewhat americanized. If you go, the Tandori Chicken with mashed potatos is delish.

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: Lisa · July 1, 2009  2:31 PM

    I work in the perimeter area and I run over to Kokai every Tuesdays and Thursday for their Shrimps Pad Thai and Beef Basil Fried Rice. They are probably the best I have had in Atlanta.

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: ob2s · August 6, 2009  8:47 AM

    They don't serve alcohol, so I called to ask if I could bring some wine. Manager says, 'I don't want to take the risk of customers behaving badly'. So I want to know, who ? is it you Jennifer ? has been boozing it up at Thai restaurants in Norcross and making a scene ? I just want to let you know you ruined it for the rest of us 😉 \/\/
    I guess it'll be lunch only for me.

  • Re: KoKai Thai Bistro: Norcross
    posted by: Candice · July 10, 2010  10:18 AM

    One of the best Thai places I have found is Taste of Thai in the plaza located off of Jimmy Carter Blvd and Brook Hollow Pkwy. Before my mom passed away in May we would always stop there before Saturday evening service at our church on Brook Hollow Pkwy. The plaza isn’t very appealing and I’m not sure what initially made my mother decide to stop there but the food is delicious! The inside is newly renovated and service is never less than great. Depending on the time of day you go it’s usually not crowded at all but they have been around for a number of years now. My first choice is the Spicy Basil with Ground Chicken – always perfectly spicy with a mix of jalapeno peppers and habanero peppers…yum! My second choice is their Basil Fried Rice – laced with tons of veggies and just the right amount of sweet and spice. Every meal comes with a large dish of glutinous (or sticky) white rice. Oh, and I always order the Thai sweet iced tea or the hot tea (which I believe is a Jasmine variety). Anywho, I know everyone else commented quite some time ago but I wanted to fill you all in on the Thai restaurant that I most enjoy. Check it out!

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