If you were to judge a restaurant solely on its looks you’d keep on walking and not stop at Wilai along Thalang Road in Phuket’s old quarter. But wait, if you took a look inside you’d discover a spotless little shop-house restaurant with a refectory-style layout of tables, photos of old Phuket on its turquoise and white walls, and a small section selling homemade bags and purses.
Wilai serves traditional food by Baba – people descended from the Malaysian Chinese who came to the island over 100 years ago during the tin mining boon. As a result, on the menu you’ll find such dishes as moo hong – braised pork belly in soy sauce and garlic with Chinese herbs, rice with stewed pork leg, and Chinese herbs pork rib soup.
A telling sign that this is a Baba venue are the packets of chopsticks on each immaculately clean table. Another is the background music: the best way to describe it is American ‘60s surf-style guitar played on a pentatonic Chinese scale: The Shadows meet Mao Zedong, if you want. At any rates, it is pleasant and unobtrusive. Wilai is air conditioned and has a cute terrace area but the owner and his friends tend to sit out there almost every day so you’ll more than likely be eating inside.
It’s no use glancing up at the attractive, colourfully written blackboards listing the daily specials. No use unless you read Thai script that is, but thankfully the comprehensive menu is in English and, apart from the first page that features Baba food, it’s almost entirely Thai classics such as green curry, masaman curry (with roti if you wish) and noodle variations.
There’s also an interesting oriental iced drink section that features chrysanthemum, roselle, and tamarind teas as well as an iced tea and coffee selection. Outside, the owner’s wife will prepare a fruit shake if you’re after vitamins and Wila also has a commendable vegetarian selection.
We order mee sua pad gai – stir-fried wheat noodles with egg, vegetables and chicken, along with khao pad gai – fried rice, egg, vegetables and chicken; the former a rather small portion, the latter a real stomach filler that will keep you going all day. The dishes may not be haute cuisine but they’re certainly fresh and well presented, not to mention value for money.
Wilai is not to be confused with Kopitiam by Wilai, a sister restaurant run by this couple’s charming daughter and situated just two doors away. It should also be mentioned that the shop in between the two Wilais is Phuket’s oldest established herbal and medicine shop.
- Opening Hours: 11:00 - 22:00 closed Sunday
- Location: Next to Nguan Choon Tong Herb Shop, a few doors away from the China Inn Café on Thalang Road