4 stars for fine service & fabulous Thai flavors at South Beach's Khong River House

At once a serious restaurant and a seriously cool place to hang out, Khong River House manages what few others in South Beach have. While it’s hip and trendy with a delightful atmosphere, it’s neither overpriced nor afflicted with attitude.  Owner John Kunkel and his 50 Eggs group have proven their versatility with quesadillas (Lime Fresh), fried chicken (Yardbird) and now the complex, flavorful and little-explored cuisine of Northern Thailand, reaching into Burma (Myanmar) and Laos. The name derives from the Mekong or Khong River they share. And while there are dishes here that have rarely been seen in this country, there is a rainbow of appealing flavors for adventurous and timid palates alike.

At the bar, six levels of liquor bottles create a kaleidoscopic effect of shimmering, jewel-colored glass. The cocktails take inspiration from the food with ingredients like muddled banana, mango, lemon grass, papaya, coconut water, coriander and turmeric. More than three dozen gins from around the globe add depth to the experience.

When it comes to the food, one word of caution: Take seriously the bright red chiles that sprout up in dishes from salads to crispy prawns. Let me reiterate: If the menu or server uses the word “spicy,” they mean it. The Thai team headed by executive chef Piyarat Potha Arreeratn (known as Chef Bee) has been adjusting the heat index for local tastes, but the fire-averse should proceed with care.

Ambience: Service is exemplary. The young, able staffers are perky tour guides to the region, warning of dangerous curves and highlighting stunning vistas. They move with ease in the former Miss Yip just off Lincoln Road, now transformed into rustic Asian farmhouse space with double-story ceilings layered with corrugated zinc panels and strung with bare bulbs and wicker birdcages. Booths, butcher-block tables and private dining nooks comfortably accommodate couples or large parties.

What Worked

  • Salads as colorful as confetti with fresh, bright flavors and textures layered with sweet, salty and sour elements
  • Green papaya salad – crunchy threads of flesh tossed with chewy dried shrimp, toasted peanuts and plump heirloom tomato halves
  • Sticky chicken wings
  • Thai tofu salad with tiny crisps of cubed bean curd – a bouquet of flavors with slivers of cucumbers, tomato, onion and cilantro
  • Earthy pla goong – bite-size bits of poached Key West shrimp seasoned with mint, cilantro, lemon grass, chili paste and tangy lime scooped into slightly bitter endive leaves
  • Buns stuffed with house-made sausage and scrambled eggs or plump nuggets of pork belly, cucumber and cilantro
  • A thrilling pho-like boat-noodle broth with five-spice-like flavor, fish sauce, beef blood, fried garlic and three types of soy sauce with meatballs
  • Soothing chicken and coconut curry egg noodle dish topped with crunchy noodles
  • A shimmering, emerald green bowl of stir-fried Chinese broccoli
  • Luscious, slow-roasted pork shoulder with an earthy soy zing
  • Chewy-crispy-sticky Burmese-style beef jerky
  • Angelic, individual coconut cakes – golden on the outside, tender and crumbly within and filled with a subtle ginger chutney
  • A scoop of lusciously creamy ice cream with tiny strands of chewy coconut
  • Passion fruit panna cotta
  • Alluring chocolate trifle with caramel cream