The first time I had Thai curry, the flavor profile just clicked. Afterwards, Thai food became something that I regularly craved as a student, which is why it was nice to have Thai options like Siam Terrace in the C-U area.

Nestled in downtown Urbana, the family business Siam Terrace is a popular destination for any C-U inhabitant craving some Thai food. I got a chance to interview Worapot Tangmunarunkit, co-owner of Siam Terrace, through email to discuss the restaurant's history, its current business, and the delicious foods they serve.

Shrimps dot the browned noodles while vegetables such as green onions and bean sprouts weave their way in between the spaces. Surrounding the main dish are ground peanuts, carrots, more bean sprouts, and a lime to add freshness to the fried elements. Photo by Siam Terrace.Photo provided by Siam Terrace.

Smile Politely: Hi. Can you introduce yourself?

Worapot Tangmunarunkit: My name is Worapot Tangmunarunkit. I came from the southern part of Thailand. My wife, Ratana Darawankul, was born in Bangkok, Thailand. We came to Urbana-Champaign for our graduate study at University of Illinois. I was major[ing] in electrical and computer engineering. My wife Ratana Darawankul also graduated with a Master’s degree in economics from U of I in 2002. We have three lovely daughters who were born and raised in Urbana.

SP: Can you talk about how Siam Terrace got started?

Tangmunarunkit: Both of us had spent a few years in Champaign and Urbana for grad school and fell in love with this great community. At the time, Champaign-Urbana did not have variety for Thai or Asian restaurants in town. There were only two Thai restaurants. My wife loves to cook, and both of us have experience in restaurant business in our home country. We felt that we could promote authentic, healthy, and delicious Thai cuisine to this community. So, we decided to start an adventure together. With help of our family and friends, Siam Terrace opened its doors in April 2004.  

SP: Why did you choose Urbana to be the location of your restaurant?

Tangmunarunkit: We visited a few places, but we fell in love with this location. It is located right in Downtown Urbana and is not too far from the University and Carle hospital. The beautiful historical building and the kindness of Knights of Pythias (our landlords) made us choose this as the home for Siam Terrace.

In this image, there are seven sashimi pieces of varying fish including shrimp, tuna, salmon, and more. Fresh oranges and cucumber are artistically cut and displayed. There are several more small slices of raw fish beside a dollop of wasabi and curled pickled ginger. The boat is a ceramic plate with a red lip and orange interior. In front of the boat there is a salt shaker, and behind the boat of sushi is a bamboo roller and a small brown jar out of focus. Photo provided by Siam Terrace.Photo provided by Siam Terrace.

SP: You serve both Thai and Japanese cuisine. What drew you to this combination of food?

Tangmunarunkit: We personally like Japanese cuisine and sushi. We started from Thai cuisine which used some fresh fish and seafood (e.g. panang salmon and tuna teriyaki). To keep the fish and seafood inventory fresh, we would like to add more variety of fish and seafood dishes. By adding sushi bar, we can expand our menu without adding too many inventories. We would quickly use our fresh fish and seafood inventory for both Thai kitchen and sushi bar dishes, so we would always have fresh fish and seafood.   

SP: What are some favorite dishes you recommend?

Tangmunarunkit: Thai cooking has many unique tastes in each dish. Each dish will feature combination of different flavors, for example, hot (pungent), sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. For people who like sweet and sour, I would recommend pad thai. Pad thai would feature sweet and sour tastes. For people who like soy sauce taste, I would recommend pad see you. Panang salmon and heaven duck curry would be for people who like savory curry taste. Mock duck basil and mock duck curry are the popular among vegans and vegetarians. 

SP: Is there a dish that is ordered by customers more often than the others?

Tangmunarunkit: For appetizers, we have the best crab rangoon in town according to our customers. Summer rolls, pot stickers, and eggplant tempura are popular vegetarian options. Pad thai is definitely the most popular item, followed by pad see you, fire cracker with chicken, and Thai fried rice. We made every dish to order, so customers can customize protein choice and preferred vegetables. Sweet sticky rice with fresh mango is the most ordered dessert in our menu.

Plated on a white square dish, mango neatly occupies half of the dish while the other half is given to the sticky rice. Then, the dessert is finished with a garnish of sesame seeds, white sauce, and bright green leaves. Photo provided by Siam Terrace.Photo provided by Siam Terrace.

SP: Do you have a favorite dish to cook?

Tangmunarunkit: Fire cracker chicken is one of my favorite dishes to cook and eat. This dish has unique flavors with a combination of sugary, mild spiciness, and savory sauce. The texture of crispy fried chicken tossed in Thai chili paste, bell pepper, and red onion is well balanced with crunchy celery and peanuts. Not only is this dish delicious, full of flavor, and filled with well-balanced textures, but this dish also provides high nutrients.

SP: How spicy are your dishes?

Tangmunarunkit: The main trait of Thai food is its spiciness. However, there are many dishes that are not spicy. At Siam Terrace, we want customers to taste the well balanced different flavors in every dish. Therefore, we will not over spice the dish — unless the customers ask for more spice. We can make the dish to be extremely spicy if we are asked. For other authentic spicy dishes at Siam Terrace, we make the dishes spicy not by just adding chili but by herbs and spice. We would add chili to dishes when customers ask. Our spiciness scales from one to four which spiced by Thai chili powder. However, spicy five to eight is upon request by adding fresh habanero and Thai chili. With fresh habanero and fresh Thai chili pepper, we would add freshness and fruity taste to the dish. Customers would taste the spiciness at the very first taste.   

Decorated with mushrooms, green onions, and other vegetables, the salmon swims in soy sauce base. The dish takes up most of the space on the white geometric ceramic on which it sits atop. Photo provided by Siam Terrace.
Photo provided by Siam Terrace.

SP: What are some of the best dishes for carryout?

Tangmunarunkit: Since carryout food will not be consumed right away, there are some dishes that will taste better after rest. All curry dishes and fried rice would taste good long after cooked, especially heaven duck curry. Other dishes that are best for carryout are minced chicken basil, cashew nut stir fried, fire cracker chicken, Mongolian beef, garlic and pepper stir fry, and grilled salmon ginger.

SP:What does a regular day at Siam Terrace look like?

Tangmunarunkit: Each day we come to the store early to freshly prep our vegetables and produce to use the same day. When the restaurant opens and orders come in, our five to six people kitchen team (chefs, cooks, and line cooks) would quickly prepare the food to order. After lunch hours, our kitchen team would freshly prep vegetables and produce for dinner and clean their work stations before lunch break at 3 p.m. Since the restaurant business has very long hours, our staff has two-hour break from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. When the restaurant reopens for dinner at 5, the kitchen team would quickly prepare the food to order. At the end of the night, we would deeply clean all refrigerators, all cooking space, and all work stations. The floor would be deeply brushed and shop-vac.

We open seven days a week, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner. On Saturday, we open all day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sunday, we open from noon to 9 p.m.

SP: When you're not working, what do you do in your spare time?

Tangmunarunkit: Since COVID, we have spent more time at work in order to survive the pandemic. Therefore when we have spare time, we want to spend time with our three daughters. We often take a day trip to nearby city, park, or play broad games. Our family enjoys hiking, canoeing, swimming, and playing tennis.

SP: How has business been since COVID?

Tangmunarunkit: Like other businesses, our business was not the same as pre-COVID. During this uncertainties time, we just hope our business to survive the pandemic. However, we are very fortunate to be in such a great community. With the enormous amount of support from friends and people in Urbana-Champaign community, we are able to sustain our operation during this unprecedented time.  

Broccoli flowers add splashes of green to the dish's golden tones. The noodles sit on a black octagonal plate, both pieces of the picture simultaneously contrasting and complementing each other. Photo by Siam Terrace.Photo provided by Siam Terrace.

SP: What has changed and what has remained the same?

Tangmunarunkit: Our daily procedures have included more cleaning and sanitizing both front and back of the house. We monitor our staffs’ health closely by a temperature check before every shift. All employees have to wear mask all the time while at work. Pick up procedure is created to have least contract for employees and customers. The number of our staff has remained the same, as well as our business hours.

SP: Earlier in the pandemic, you offered face masks for free to customers. Can you talk about that?

Tangmunarunkit: In the beginning of the pandemic, we wanted our employees to wear mask while at work. We wanted something comfortable for them to wear in very hot kitchen and cooking line. However, good quality masks were very difficult to find early. Luckily, we knew someone who can produce high quality masks. We were thinking of our family, friends, customers, and people in this great community who support us over the years, and would like them to have good quality masks. So we started this free masks project for adult and kids. We would give away masks to customers or anyone who would like to have them.

Shrimps dot the browned noodles while vegetables such as green onions and bean sprouts weave their way in between the spaces. Surrounding the main dish are ground peanuts, carrots, more bean sprouts, and a lime to add freshness to the fried elements. Photo by Siam Terrace.Photo provided by Siam Terrace.

SP: What can people do to support your business right now?

Tangmunarunkit: Since the pandemic, people are ordering take-out and delivery. There are many online ordering platforms (DoorDash, GrubHub, UberEats, etc.) that charge the restaurant very high commission rate[s] 25-30%. One way that people can do to support us is to order food, either take out or delivery, directly through the restaurant to avoid those high commission rate. We have several platforms that customer can order without us paying the high commission rate. Customers can order food from these websites: (run by GrubHub with 0% commission) (run by Menufy with 0% commission)  (rub by Smiledining with 0% commission)

Customers can also call us directly at 217-367-THAI (8424) to place an order.

Siam Terrace
212 W Main
M-F 11 a..m. to 3 p.m., 5 to 10 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su noon to 9 p.m.

Top image provided by Siam Terrace.