Sometimes one street can hold a bounty of good restaurants, and lately Short Order has been doing a lot of good eating on North Miami's NE 123rd Street.
Now we have another delicious spot to add to the list: Ricky Thai Bistro. Its owners have a love story that's eerily similar to that of Primo Trattoria Italiana down the road. It involves a husband and wife from different countries falling in love in Rome and then opening a restaurant in North Miami.
Owner Giuliano Carrafelli is from Italy, and his wife, Majcha Manomai, is from Thailand. Ricky is the name of their adorable 9-year-old son, who replies, "I have no idea," when asked how it feels to have a restaurant named after him.
The family's restaurant cooks delicious, fresh fare. During one of our visits, the food we took home was a notch above every other Thai restaurant in the area. It was also more reasonably priced. We had the beef red curry ($12), ginger with tofu lunch special ($11), and tom kha goong ($5).
Everything was packed with fresh flavor. The tom kha goong -- succulent jumbo shrimp in a spicy, sweet-and-sour coconut soup with lemongrass and lime juice -- won us over. After eating the shrimp, we wanted to sip the rest of the broth like tea.
During a second visit, we ordered the yum goong ($8.50) -- featuring large, perfectly cooked shrimp tossed in Thai chili sauce with raw onions and red bell peppers. It was full of different herbal notes.
But soon some things will change at Ricky Thai. After the New Year, Carrafelli will be forced to raise the price of his shrimp dishes.
There's a disease killing shrimp in Thailand, China, and Vietnam -- the three largest prawn producers in the world -- and it's causing a supply shortage. Carrafelli has seen a price hike in wholesale shrimp from around $25 to $39.
He explained his restaurant has always offered larger shrimp at a supplement of $2 over chicken, beef, pork, tofu, or mixed vegetables. Most restaurants offer smaller shrimp and price the supplement at $3. But in 2014, Carrafelli most likely must increase the price of shrimp to $3 extra on dishes. He doesn't want to downgrade quality or size.
There's more to the place than just jumbo shrimp, though. After hearing that the noodles are made fresh locally, we had to try the pad kee mow ($12), AKA drunken noodles. (We splurged on shrimp for an additional $2.)
These flat, wide rice noodles were delicately topped with basil, bell pepper, green beans, carrots, broccoli, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, cilantro, and scallions. "We get the noodles delivered fresh every week; they are never frozen. Last week, we ran out on Thursday," Carrafelli said.
He also explained why the herbs tasted so fresh: "We grow all of our own herbs: lemongrass, kaffir leaves, Vietnamese and Thai mint, galangal root, and more."
That's when we noticed a secret herb garden in the parking lot.
Asked if people ever steal from it, Carrafelli said, "Occasionally." Ricky Thai once had a papaya tree for its famed papaya salad (the chef's favorite dish; she even uses a mortar and pestle), and people would steal the fruit off the tree in the middle of the night.
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There are plenty of reasons to return to this North Miami restaurant: jumbo shrimp, fresh herbs, and a charming family. And here's another one: Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog recently tweeted about an off-the-menu yellow curry lobster that pops up as a special on weekends.
Carrafelli will add weekend specials and and more off-the-menu items in 2014. We know we'll definitely be back for more.
Follow Carina on Twitter @CarinaOst