Piyawan Lash knows her Thai restaurant, Charm Gai, is hard to spot.
From the outside there’s nothing about the place, hidden in a strip mall just across from Alderwood Mall, that screams “Eat here or you’ll miss out.”
But then you eat the food.
Lash, who grew up cooking in her mom’s kitchen and emigrated from Thailand in 1992, knows that once a customer dines at Charm Gai, the rest will work itself out.
“Whenever they eat here, they always come back,” she said.
Charm Gai has served authentic cuisine since opening its doors in October. Lash, 62, of Lynnwood, makes noodles, soups, salads, curry, seafood, rice dishes and desserts.
In addition to the familiar massaman curry and pad thai, the place offers dishes like yen ta fo, a distinctive noodle soup with fish balls, pork, shrimp, spinach and calamari in red broth.
I was drawn to the tom kah gai ($11.95), a spicy, sour and slightly sweet soup with mushrooms, coconut milk, chicken, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal.
I was hesitant to order it because of the mushrooms — something about them has always given me the creeps — as well as the coconut milk, which I’ve long found a bit too sweet. But I felt like taking a risk.
The risk was rewarded. I loved the soup’s rich, creamy and slightly spicy flavors. Far from creeping me out, the mushrooms added an earthy, almost meat-like texture to the soup that made them hard to pass up.
I also tried rama noodles ($11) a dish of sauteed rice noodles, eggs, spinach and chicken, topped with homemade peanut sauce. I knew this would be a home run when I ordered it, but I was still surprised by just how good it tasted.
The spinach, chicken and peanut sauce sit atop the rice noodles and slices of boiled eggs, which allowed me to dig through different layers. The rich and nutty flavors of the sauce melded them together.
Lash grew up in a coastal city two hours south of Bangkok. Her uncle ran a catering business that served up to 1,000 customers at a time.
She’s carried on the family tradition, taking extra care to make each dish taste authentic.
“I’m really careful about my food,” she said.
She buys ingredients imported from Thailand, then cooks the dishes herself. Lash says she wants to impress her fellow immigrants as much as curious diners who stumble upon her hole-in-the-wall restaurant.
“People from Thailand say, ‘Wow,’ this is better than if I was in Thailand,’” she said.
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
Charm Gai is at 18415 33rd Ave. W., Suite G, Lynnwood. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sundays. Call 425-678-1752 or go to www.charmgaiwa.com to order takeout.