Restaurant Review: Kunya Siam (Atlantic Highlands, NJ)

I held off writing this review for years because I thought it would be a conflict of interest. I know the owner (Kunya) of this restaurant personally. I’ve even done some work for her during special events or down at her stand at the annual film festival at the harbor. She has graciously donated to the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society (of which I am a member) over the years. When my father passed away in June, she brought over three trays of food to my house that kept us fed for days. Can I impartially give a review of her restaurant? I thought about it and then figured that since this is purely a hobby and I make no money off this blog whatsoever, I’ll do what I want. So let’s talk about Kunya Siam.

My work with this restaurant, as limited as it is, will actually help this review. I’ve seen the kitchen—I’ve been back there. It’s clean. The food is fresh. The people doing the cooking are knowledgeable and passionate. If you realized how small the actual cooking area is, you would be even more impressed with how these complex dishes get cranked out during a busy dinner service.

Fried Pork

More appreciated than anything else about the food at Kunya Siam is that when you ask for heat, they deliver. How many restaurants have I written about when I asked for “as spicy as you can make it” and have received a level barely warmer than mild? That is not the case here, and fans of spice must choose their words carefully. If you want heat, be prepared. The menu has it broken down into three stars: one being the mildest, and three being—well, let’s be honest—death.  My first time there dining with friends who also work with Kunya, I ordered the three-star spicy. I was arrogant. I told ’em to bring it on. The chef actually came out of the kitchen to see who was brave (or stupid) enough to take it on. I felt like a victim being sized up. The level of spice took me places I never thought possible. It was a debilitating, semi-intoxicating journey to hell and back. When the pain finally subsided, a euphoria set it. The flavor present in that single dish was beyond words. It was soon recommended to me from then on to order two stars and then ask for the spice tray, which includes chili flakes and chili sauce (among other condiments), to doctor it up myself. I have since heeded that advice.

Grilled eggplant with minced chicken and shrimp

I’ve ordered so many different things here over the years that I do not know where to start. The Tamarind Chicken is crispy, sweet, and spicy. My dad loved it. The myriad selection of curries will bring you to Thailand without a passport. The appetizers are delightful, tantalizing morsels that set up your palate for what is to come. My most recent visit comprised of the steamed chicken and broccoli in peanut sauce. The chicken was tender, the broccoli firm, and the peanut sauce deliciously savory and rich. For an appetizer, we had fried strips of pork which were served with sriracha, and more importantly, pickled vegetables. The sourness is there to break apart the heaviness of the fried meat.

Pad Prik Khing

Then there is the Pad Prik Khing that did a number on my mouth by way of heat. Think of it as a dry curry, where strips of chicken have been sautéed and tossed in a light sauce with string beans and peppers. Just take a look at how sinister that picture is above. While Kunya Siam is a BYOB, I usually find myself switching from beer or wine to a Thai iced tea by the time the entrée arrives. There is nothing better to put out the fire than with this cold, creamy beverage.

Ka Nom Jeeb: steamed wonton skins stuffed with crab, shrimp, and chicken

Even without the back-story, this restaurant would likely be getting one of my rare 5 out of 5 stars ratings. But everything else makes Kunya Siam that much sweeter. I suppose it is good for people to know not just what a great restaurant this is, but how well-run the business is, and how kind the owners are. The servers who work there have been around for years. They are all super-nice and knowledgeable about the menu. There’s a reason why she has had almost no turnover since I started eating there four or five years ago. Here’s to a great restaurant…and a great person!

Kunya Siam is located at 99 First Avenue in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey.

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