Last week, Opart Thai House closed its original location after 34 years in Lincoln Square, but customers should soon be able to try a similar menu thanks to a replacement restaurant. One of the restaurant’s longtime chefs, a worker who’s good friends with Opart co-founder Mookda Punmit, will open Green Leaf Thai Cuisine hopefully later this month at 4658 N. Western Avenue.
Rattiya Udompaichitkul worked with Punmit from the start, spending more than three decades cooking at Opart. Her son, Deer Udompaichitkul, described her as Opart’s former co-head chef. She’s ready to call her own shots and create her own menu.
“My mom keeps telling she wants to create new Thai dishes that she never got to try out,” Udompaichitkul.
Udompaichitkul is helping his 65-year-old mother with the restaurant. While he never officially worked at Opart, he grew up around the restaurant and may have picked up a couple shifts here and there. His family ran Java Thai, a restaurant that closed in 2015 after nine years in Old Irving Park.
They’re repainting Opart’s walls green and finding new artwork. Udompaichitkul enjoys a close relationship with the Punmit family. Mary Punmit, who has taken over the regular operations of Opart from her parents, called Udompaichitkul an auntie. There’s a mutual respect.
The menu won’t be a carbon copy of Opart’s. Opart was among the first Thai restaurants in Chicago, a place that didn’t dumb down the cuisine and brought the heat when requested. The landscape has changed as 34 years later as Chicagoans are more familiar with Thai food. They’re now more interested in regional fare, including food from Northern Thailand.
Besides adding twists to Opart favorites, Green Leaf will offer new items such as meekarti, (a stir-fried dish with pink noodles, onion, tofu, shrimp) and som tum gaiyang (marinated chicken, papaya salad, sticky rice). The restaurant will continue to be BYOB.
Green Leaf is happy to continue the legacy of Thai food in the Lincoln Square area, a neighborhood that’s filled with tasty options.
“They told me it just wouldn’t feel right to give the space to someone else,” Udompaichitkul said.
Check back for more details on Green Leaf in the coming weeks.