About a month ago, Panya Amporn, the owner of North Miami Beach'sPanya Thai
, asked his ex-wife to come back to work for the restaurant.
"An employee quit, and he called me," Judy Khuanthong says.
Back in 2003, when the pair was still married, she helped her husband open the restaurant. About five years later, they divorced.
Today, she seems rather nonchalant about her return. "We can work together; there's no need to fight," she explains.
Indeed, the restaurant feels peaceful. During a weekday lunch, Khuanthong and a pair of waitresses wear frilly blouses that match their intricately embroidered skirts. Men in business attire crowd the dining room while slurping long rice noodles from steaming bowls.
One of the suits says he dated a Thai girl who loved this place. "Everything here is great!" he bellows to an out-of-towner, who stares blankly at the menu.
Eventually, they decide. The pair orders chicken pad thai and pork in a green curry sauce.
But Panya Thai's best dishes are not pad thai or curry. Its gems are laced with offal -- rich soups simmered slowly with liver, kidneys, and blood.
The guay jab ($10) is a dark soup, filled with tofu, wide rice noodles curled up into rolls, and chunks of pig intestine. Its stock is thickened with oyster sauce and infused with star anise, cinnamon, and garlic.
Perhaps you're not ready to be that adventuresome. For shyer appetites, Khuanthong recommends the spicy boat noodles with pork or beef meatballs. She also suggests the pan-fried mussels, which are cooked in a crisp, egg-based crêpe and draped over bean sprouts, cilantro, and fish sauce.
Besides the pork intestine soup, there's another reason to visit Panya Thai soon.
Prices are going up. "The menu is too cheap," Khuanthong says. "We keep a lot of different foods on hand, and our portions are very big."
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According to her, the restaurant's wholesale cost for shrimp has climbed from about $5 per pound to $8. This increase also applies to cuts of beef, pork, and chicken.
"It's going to be only another dollar per dish. People shouldn't get mad. We don't make that much money anyway," she explains.
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