During the years when I was renovating my house, I was fascinated with television do-it-yourself shows. But since I stopped renovating my house—you never finish, you just stop—my feeling about DIY is: Better you than me. So I was surprised to feel such delight in the myriad ingenious DIY inventions on display at Mango, Cathedral Hill’s newest Thai spot: “Oh, that’s from Ikea! And look what they built with plywood! Really, just a little orange accent color did so much!” When you go you’ll understand that the food at Mango is very good—but it’s the adorable design that makes it a destination.
This design-and-dine work is done by husband and wife Chai Harris Vang and Marlene Rachwat. He cooks, she decorates. The pair hail from a region north of Bangkok, and some northern Thai cooking can be found in such dishes as the bright laab salad, made with lots of lime juice and fresh chopped mint and cilantro, or the bright, fiery, not-too-saucy papaya salad.
However, the restaurant particularly excels at Thai dishes with Western touches, such as crisp crab avocado rolls dressed with a creamy cashew sauce, or the Mango shrimp salad, in which tamarind-dressed grilled shrimp are paired with mixed greens and fresh strawberry slices. Mango also makes an excellent version of Singapore noodles: Here, chef Vang uses wide, thick rice noodles and fries them with pan-toasted curry until the noodles achieve a peanut-like savor. It’s one of those dishes that you tell yourself you’re done eating, and then realize you keep sneaking one noodle at a time from the platter. And, of course, that platter is a pretty one: square, glass, and lined with an echoing square of banana leaf. But don’t fear that you’ll pay more for the fancy plates: Most entrées here cost between $9 and $13.
Mango is the second restaurant for Vang and Rachwat. They also own Chai’s Thai in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. Will they have any more? Fans of DIY design, Thai food, and good neighborhood restaurants will all be hoping so.