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October 8, 2015

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Booze not all that’s being served downtown


Beverly Poppe

Dan Coughlin’s three-color curry as served at Mix Zone Cafe.

The much-heralded development of Fremont East into a lively entertainment zone has been missing one important ingredient: pad Thai.

OK, maybe a plate of steaming noodles is a tad specific, but the area is teeming with hip-as-they-come bars sans a dining scene to match. And when the patrons of said bars come stumbling out into the night, they’re stuck trekking down Fremont Street or hopping in the car to soothe their booze-bloated bellies and fend off impending hangovers.

Not for long.

Dan Coughlin, the former owner of Mix Zone Cafe and son of the King and I owner Nikki Bujadham, says his new Thai joint will open in mid-to-late September in the space next to piano bar Don’t Tell Mama. Called Le Thai, the restaurant will serve a concise menu of curries and classics, along with a rotating specials list of lesser-known Thai dishes that Coughlin learned to cook from watching his mother and Bangkok-born grandmother in the kitchen.

“Thai people, they’re not just going to bring you in the kitchen and show you. You’ve just got to go in the kitchen and watch them. Nothing’s written down. I put some time in,” Coughlin says of absorbing the techniques and flavors of his grandmother’s food.

He also put in time at the King and I, a Thai joint on Tropicana Avenue and Maryland Parkway owned by his mother and stepfather. It was there, Coughlin says, where he learned to transform his home-style cooking into restaurant-friendly fare, and there where he got the inkling to open his own space. That space was Mix Zone Cafe, a restaurant where the chef and owner tried out his own brand of Thai cuisine — a mix of his mother’s and grandmother’s flavors — and learned the ropes of ownership.

“I thought I knew a lot about the restaurant business, but I figured out real early I didn’t know that much.”

This time around, Coughlin has the benefit of experience, as well as a healthy dose of patience. Le Thai has been in the works for nearly two years.

“We saw the same potential of downtown (as the bar owners). We hang out down here all the time; we live down here; we just wanted to be part of this community and watch it grow,” Coughlin says.

The restaurant’s 800-square-foot patio will offer al-fresco dining, and the owner plans to keep the restaurant open late on weekends to serve the barhopping East Fremont crowd. Chances are, plenty of them will be digging into that pad Thai.

“I’m huge on pad Thai ’cause that’s the first thing I remember liking when I was little,” Coughlin says. “A great pad Thai should be balanced. It shouldn’t be overwhelmingly sweet.”

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