Chalit’s, which offers “the lighter, fresher side of Thai cuisine,” sure doesn’t look like much from the outside. It sits back from the road in one of the ubiquitous strip malls along the Carlisle Pike west of Harrisburg and appears to offer nothing at all.
But inside this modest storefront is a well-designed, sharply decorated little BYOB bistro with welcoming service and excellent food that really is “lighter, fresher” than standard Thai fare.
I’ll go back. And I hate strip malls and the Carlisle Pike.
For starters, the place is sleek and cozy at the same time. It has tile floors, smart woven-wicker black and ivory chairs, Asian art, very nice tables with fresh flowers and candlelight, great glassware and place settings, a combination fountain/waterfall right inside the door and an impressive, large and elevated group table cutting the dining room in half.
The table’s big enough to offer the option of bringing a group or just joining others to make new friends or spy on their orders while you eat.
The menu is large and includes the usual variety of Thai soups, traditional noodle dishes, curries, hot and spicy wok stuff, stir-fry and, of course, pad thai, the national dish of Thailand.
Our server was extremely attentive despite the fact that the place was packed. Wine glasses were brought at once, along with water; our wine was opened and an ice bucket with a wrap-around towel was promptly provided for our white.
Prices are reasonable: “Thai tapas” are $7 and $8; soups are $4 and $5; most other dishes are $12 to $14; and house specials run from the mid-teens to $20 for broiled sea bass over bok choy with a fresh ginger and soybean sauce.
I started with Buddha dumplings ($7), steamed chicken pot stickers in a wonderfully light and mild green curry sauce, five to the order. They are great to share and hard not to re-order.
Other starters include moo ping, marinated pork skewers; chicken satay; “golden triangle,” seafood-filled wontons; kung gra bog, marinated whole shrimp in wonton; and, of course, spring rolls. There’s also Thai wonton soup, hot and sour soups and a clear veggie soup with bok choy.
My dining partner and I shared a tofu salad ($9) that was delicious and easily large enough for two. It had fried slices of tofu over very fresh greens and was perfectly dressed in excellent ginger-soy vinaigrette.
There’s also warm silver noodle salad with chicken, shrimp, cilantro and scallops in a chili-lime dressing, and “tiger beef” salad with grilled sirloin and a Thai salsa dressing.
Homemade curries ($12 to $14) with a coconut milk base are served with steamed veggies and either white or homemade brown rice with a choice of beef, tofu, chicken, shrimp, scallops or squid.
There are daily specials, but the regular house specials include the aforementioned sea bass, Thai barbecue chicken with plum sauce, crispy catfish with red curry sauce and seafood pad thai in a bowl with silver noodles, egg, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts and lime.
I had a house special, grilled Thai “waterfall” pork ($16) that included jasmine rice and a cucumber salad with the cucumber thinly sliced into light ribbons. It featured pounded-thin and marinated pork tenders that were absolutely delectable, served with a roasted tomato garlic sauce on the side.
The portion was perfect. The taste was terrific. And while staff could not explain why it’s called “waterfall” (I later learned some grilled or barbecued Thai dishes in which sauce drips into charcoal during preparation are referred to as “waterfall” dishes), the dish is also offered with beef.
My dining partner had a traditional noodles entree, pad kee mao ($14), also called “drunken noodles” — sautéed rice noodles with fresh vegetables, bean sprouts, onions, spicy chili sauce and sweet Thai basil. It tastes much, much better than it looks.
Fried rice dishes range from $10 for “veggie lovers” fried rice to $15 for the combination fried rice (shrimp, beef, pork, egg, peas, carrots and onions) or crab fried rice with Chinese broccoli, egg and onions.
If you don’t bring wine, there’s bottled water, Thai iced tea and coffee and a selection of teas and soft drinks.
Whatever you get, leave room for the sticky rice with coconut milk served with a thin-sliced mango for dessert. To the uninitiated, this looks like a small plate of tapioca with Elmer’s Glue-All and sliced fruit. But the taste is astounding. Don’t leave without trying it.
Of course, Chalit’s offers takeout, but as mentioned, it’s an attractive, comfortable place to dine, and there’s plenty of parking since it’s located (ugh) in a strip mall.
Reservations are a must on weekends and a good idea during the week.
This is the kind of dining Central PA could use a lot more of: casual, inexpensive and high-quality in a nice setting with a staff that’s well-trained and attentive without being intrusive.
You don’t have to like Thai food to enjoy a good meal here. Many of the dishes are simply prepared. Nothing I tasted was overspiced. But if you already like Thai food, you are going to love Chalit’s Thai Bistro.
CHALIT’S THAI BISTRO
5103 Carlisle Pike, Mechanicsburg; BYOB; lots of on-site parking; open for lunch Mon–Fri; open for dinner Mon–Sat; takes major cards; reservations recommended; 717-695-9889; chalitsthaibistro.com
Published in Phantom Diner
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