How Dallas family-run restaurants are leaning on their walk-up service
Uno Immanivong is behind the registry of Red Stix Asian Street Food in Dallas. Gloves and mask are snapped on and bring orders to the kitchen at lunchtime. The aroma of fried garlic and soy and the salty bath steam of noodles comes out as soon as the takeaway window is opened. This is the experience that precedes ordering great street food, the hot kind that is now being made, a quick fire under the pan only visible through a porthole.
Restaurants in the Dallas area use these little walk-in windows to keep the lights on and use the smallest breath of oxygen for the dining experience. Gino Rojas has swiveled the Revolver Taco Lounge in Deep Ellum to a walk-in window, as have Red Stix, the Bangkok Inn, Bangkok in Greenville and Chan Thai and Emporium Pies in Oak Cliff. Some restaurants, such as Sandwich Hag on Lamar Street and La Popular Tamale House on Bryan Street, relied on walk-in windows as a business model even before COVID.
“People adapt,” says Immanivong. “There’s a new norm that’s here – I hate to say that word – but people are adjusting what eating out means to them now.”
Chef Uno Immanivong of Red Stix Asian Street Food in Dallas by her takeaway window(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)
Immanivong’s Damn Damn Noodles dish is an icon of street food. She soaks oil with cinnamon, star anise, black peppercorn, and those Sichuan peppercorns that are having an anesthetic flower boom. A bite in it, the spice and the heat hum like an approaching swarm of honey bees. Three bites and you see stars, lips on fire and stunned at the same time. It’s both sweet and hot: there is lightning in their food.
We now need this good fast food – no frills, quick and safe.
“We went from nobody using the window to about 30% of the people using the window,” says Immanivong. “It’s a bit nostalgic for me: I love that people hang out and wait for the food. It doesn’t have to be a fussy experience. “
Daisy Chuskul at the Bangkok Inn in East Dallas feels similar. She runs the long-standing joint with her family and serves customers through the open window near the front door. She disconnected from personal food in the first month of this mess (Chuskul’s mother is 75 and has health problems) and they survive the delivery, which increases in bad weather, and take it out through the cutout in the wall. The window was part of a renovation from 2012 for which you are grateful today.
“It’s nice to have protection but still be able to see customers at the window,” she says. With a skeletal staff – Daisy, her sister, and a cook most days – distant interaction is as good as it gets.
Any list of Dallas’ great street food options must include Bangkok’s family recipe block, Thai: it’s full of memories and a whirlwind of green onions and chopped peanuts. This is not an electric red sauce like you find in other joints that use pre-made products. Ask for extra chilies to hone the smell of the mashed tamarind, then reach through the airy window.
Long-time customer Carol Brown (right) picks up an order from Joe Pumphuang’s walk-in window in Bangkok’s Greenville restaurant in Dallas.(Juan Figueroa / employee photographer)
Joe Pumphuang’s window has been open on Greenville Avenue since the spring of 2020.
It’s a simple thing that means a lot to the owner of 28 year old Bangkok at Greenville Restaurant. He relies on regulars and their favorite old-school dishes: he cracks fresh crabs for the fried rice and real orange juice for the orange chicken.
A dish that you should wait outside the window in any weather: the Thai dumplings with shrimp and pork, chopped with carrots, garlic, fresh coriander shards and fish sauce, filled in a crown. A storm of crispy garlic goes over the dumplings. They’re a little naughty and just hot enough to wait to be safely seated in your car. Breaking open the styrofoam on the hood of your car will also work. You will taste bright peppers and onions, thundering garlic. Pumphuang’s mother made it that way. It’s good street food, somehow better if you walk through an open window from above.
“It’s not just people who know us,” says Pumphuang of his customers. You also get a lot of new business. Simply ordering from a window means people queue outside when it’s busy. So Bangkok, in Greenville’s newest form of advertising, is one of the oldest and truest ways to attract businesses to a corner shop: stop by and give it a try. Delivery is a sizeable part of the deal, but the profits have to be split to pay the third party. That little window that could be is the greatest way to make an impact. Pumphuang promises to keep the window open for the time being.
“I have to do everything I can to make my business work,” he says.
Bangkok’s Crab Fried Rice Place at Greenville (Juan Figueroa / employee photographer)The Thai dumplings from Bangkok in Greenville (Juan Figueroa / employee photographer)