Welcome to the Scene Report, a new column in which Eater captures the vibe of a notable Austin restaurant at a specific moment in time.
Chicken and rice spot P. Thai’s Khao Man Gai is the perfect setup for what could have been a rave review from the late greats Anthony Bourdain or Jonathan Gold: a successful chef opens a low-key food stall in the back of a supermarket with a simple menu using his mother’s recipes. So when Austin chef Thai Changthong opened this new restaurant in the Hong Kong Supermarket in Quail Creek earlier this summer, it quickly became a buzzy lunch spot where dishes sell out often.
Here’s the scene at P. Thai’s Khao Man Gai at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday in late August.
The vibe: Though the casual ambiance is pretty much what you’d expect from a stall in the back of a supermarket (buzzing fluorescent lights overhead, bar seating, the occasional fragrance wafting from the fish counter), there are a few things that make P. Thai’s Khao Man Gai a bit more fun. For starters, the people — both customers and staff — are generally happy to be here. Because it’s quite a bit outside of central Austin, it attracts people serious about food (there’s a fairly high chance of running into off-duty Austin chefs). There’s usually a pleasant amount of other people: you’ll be able to grab a seat, watch the kitchen work, and get food without a long wait, but you won’t be the only one there, so it’s a great spot for solo dining. However, by 1 p.m., items are running low and the restaurant is pretty empty.
On the menu: The Thai-style main menu has four entrees: fried pork belly, steamed chicken, fried chicken, and a combo of steamed and fried chicken. Each comes with chicken fat rice, and sauces, and the chicken dishes come with a dynamite consommé. The most expensive item is the combo, which is $18. There are occasionally special add-ons like fried chicken livers or crispy chicken skin. Items do sell out — by 1 p.m., the fried chicken was gone — so order early.
Why go: For a quick meal of simply great food with zero pretension, this is the spot. Though the menu is simple, every dish is executed perfectly to bring out maximum flavor. Plus, there’s the bonus opportunity to grab groceries on your lunch break.