Blink and you miss Bodhi Thai going down Roosevelt – that is, if you were even looking for a restaurant on this block in the first place. A nondescript window storefront amidst mostly no-nonsense businesses, you might not even pick the right door when you walk up (it's the one on the right of the window).
But stepping inside, the plain but elegant room tells you loud and clear that you've come to a place far removed from its surroundings. The fans are haloed underneath by wooden wheels of lights, and the room stretches back in a long thin strip for minimal hustle and bustle. At the very back, a redone factory door slides up in a diagonal to reveal a party room with high surrounding windows and space for about 20 people – just in case you want to share the secret with others.
The menu itself stays fairly to the course – favorites like crab rangoon ($4) are quite up to par, and inventive treats like the sweet potato and corn fritters ($5) are excellent new additions to any regular Thai eater's rotation. A som tum salad with green papaya, tomatoes, string beans and chiles in garlic-lime dressing with peanuts offers some exotic fare for $7, or the clean heat of the spicy beef salad can be had for $8. Try the heat of the jungle curry with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, squash, lime leaves and sweet pepper.
If you're looking to expand your palate, try the medley of flavors in the masamun chicken, sweet potato, squash, green peas, onions and peanuts, all lending their flavors to the coconut milk it's simmered in. Amongst the affordable dishes (almost all meat and noodle entrees are $7-$8) are a few pricier seafood options, including chu chee scallops pan seared in a coconut curry sauce ($13).
For drinks, a strong Thai iced tea is only $2, so you don't have to feel guilty about finishing the first one before the main course arrives. As for dessert, $3 will get you either a soft and decadent Thai custard, a warm milky bowl of taro pearls in coconut milk, or sweet rice and black bean bundles with coconut simmered bananas. Since the servings are smaller and the prices low, you can reward yourself for finding this gem by trying a couple of them.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Dan Morgridge