Homeless men mutter to themselves outside the Kwik Stop on Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove.
Yet tucked inside the convenience store, KT Mongkolthalang and her mother, Toya, stand behind a glass case stacked high with cans of Mae Ploy coconut milk and amber bottles of fish sauce while they toss pearly white strands of rice noodles in sizzling woks.
While central Grove real estate and restaurants seem to founder, the mother-and-daughter team at Asian Thai Kitchen turns out fragrant bowls of noodles and rich coconut milk curries without even a place for patrons to sit.
After a first bite of a spicy, fragrant panang curry ($11), trying the rest of the options quickly tops to-do lists. The orange-red sauce is rich with the earthy, citrusy flavor of lemongrass and an earthy, not-to-sweet coconut milk.
The wide rice noodles of pad see-ew ($13) are coated with just the right amount of a smoky, salty, sweet dark soy sauce. The shrimp are perfectly cooked, and each bite sets off a full mouth burn that should come with most Thai meals.
"We have two kinds of spicy here," KT says with a laugh, "American spicy and Thai spicy."
Asian Thai Kitchen opened about a year ago after a string of sandwich and pizza vendors unsuccessfully tried to set up inside the store.
The remains of the space's former tenants, including beloved 27th Avenue pizza joint Slice 'N Ice, which closed more than a year ago, are stacked like a burial mound in the back of the store next to humming coolers of Gatorade and Monster Energy Drink.
KT, who was raised in Bangkok, said she came across the listing for the space on Craigslist and jumped for it.
"No one else was doing Thai in the Grove," she says. "There was low competition."
This is her third year in the States. The first was spent waiting tables at the seemingly endless array of Thai-Japanese restaurants throughout Miami. The second was in the kitchen at Siam Oishi in the Grove.
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She learned cooking from her mother, who arrived in the U.S. two months ago and has been helping in the Grove location and the one that opened on Calle Ocho near 22nd Avenue about seven months ago.
"Everyone loved her cooking," KT says. "She was a teacher for 11- and 12-year-old students for almost 40 years, and she would always cook for them at lunch or at holidays and festivals."