Always a sucker for a good "Green Acres" story, I recently found myself cheered by the menu at Theo Thai Bistro and its explanation for the new Bethpage eatery’s dual focus. "When Thai married Vietnamese" read the words inside a heart with an arrow pointing to a bowl of pho proudly "made by the Nguyen family of Ninh Kieu Bay." A few weeks later, however, when a reworked menu appeared, both the heart and its sentiment were gone. My tendency toward catastrophic thinking aside, it seemed possible that the stress of opening a pandemic-era restaurant had wreaked matrimonial havoc.
"Did Thai … divorce Vietnamese?" I ventured upon reaching Khoa Nguyen by phone.
"We are still married!" laughed Khoa, known by some as Leon. He and his wife Thanida, who goes by Tannie, came to the U.S. as children, she from Bangkok and he from the aforementioned Ninh Kieu, southwest of Ho Chi Minh City. Both grew up to be bankers with secret desires to open a restaurant, and in December that’s just what they did, naming the venture for their 5-year-old son.
"Theo is more like a business person than a restaurant person," explained Khoa, although the Theo Thai Facebook page begs to differ. "Today is a snow day. Come have some pho," says the boy in a video posted there, his voice suggesting a future side hustle as a carnival barker.
Although most of the menu is devoted to Tannie’s Thai, Khoa was insistent that it include four varieties of pho ($12-14) as well. "She didn’t have a choice, since she married me," he said. Drunken noodles ($12.95 to $16.95, depending on protein) are the most popular item, the dish’s Thai basil, bell peppers, onions and carrots bought and chopped fresh daily. Theo Thai’s kitchen also performs a sweetly comforting rendition of pad see ew ($12.95-$16.95), Thai basil (pad gra prow) with beef ($16.95), and red curry with chicken ($13.95), deliciously creamy with just the right amount of chili paste-sponsored heat. And even if you’ve had your fill of wings lately, don’t overlook Theo Thai’s take ($9), a treat both juicy and sticky.
Speaking of which, what’s little Theo’s favorite dish? "It’s an American dream," laughed his dad. "He only eats mac ’n cheese all day."
Theo Thai Bistro is at 621 Hicksville Rd. in Bethpage, 516-490-9988. Opening hours are daily from noon to 9 p.m.