By Jacki Lenners | Photo by John Burcham
Nipon “Paul” Trerattanapun hails from Thailand and owns Pato Thai Cuisine in Flagstaff. But don’t expect him to regale you with tales of growing up in the kitchen and treasured family recipes.
When he took ownership of his first restaurant 20 years ago, Trerattanapun found himself balancing spreadsheets more than flavors — he left the back-of-the-house work to culinary professionals. It wasn’t until he opened a Thai restaurant in Southern California that he realized his limitations.
“Hey, the owner doesn’t know much about Thai food,” Trerattanapun overheard in the kitchen. Afraid of what would happen if the kitchen staff walked out, he headed back to Thailand for a three-month culinary crash course.
When he opened Pato eight years ago in the heart of downtown Flagstaff, Trerattanapun was armed with his own Thai recipes and confidence in his abilities. Faithful locals and spice-seeking tourists have responded, keeping this cozy spot packed.
If there is a calling card of Thai cuisine, it’s pad thai, a stir-fried noodle dish with eggs, ground peanuts and bean sprouts. It’s the sauce that takes Pato’s version to a higher level, Trerattanapun says. The key is using real tamarind paste, which he acquires from a market in Los Angeles. Although Pato’s portions are generous enough for leftovers, many diners leave empty-handed, unable to resist the rich and spicy noodles.
The eggplant with basil leaves is just one of the dishes on Pato’s menu that feature the house sauce, an intoxicating blend of Trerattanapun’s own oyster sauce and chile oil paste. Eggplant is often maligned as spongy or mushy, but don’t blame the vegetable — it’s all in the preparation. In this rendition, eggplant chunks are stir-fried with vegetables, fragrant basil and the house sauce, creating a balance of flavors and textures that can turn around even the strongest skeptics.
While the menu boasts a traditional mix of curry, noodle and rice dishes, it would be premature to make any decisions without consulting the specials board. The fish basil frequently appears on this board, and it definitely is something special. A stir-fried combination of fish, oyster and soy sauces envelops a deep-fried fillet of sole, instantly rewarding diners for veering away from the menu.
And sometimes, menus just aren’t necessary. When Beatles legend Paul McCartney stopped in Flagstaff on his 2008 Route 66 road trip, Trerattanapun closed his doors early and created a special off-menu vegetarian feast for McCartney and his now-wife, Nancy Shevell. A small photo of McCartney with the Pato staff, a permanent reminder of an unforgettable evening, is displayed above the cash register.
Rock-star status is not required to dine at Pato, but the bold and spicy flavors will make even the tone-deaf sing with gastronomic joy.
Pato Thai Cuisine is located at 104 N. San Francisco Street in Flagstaff. For more information, call 928-213-1825 or visit www.patothai.com.