Thai food from the Bangkok region of Thailand has had its moment, and now it’s time for the Northern region to shine.
While Central Thai dishes like Pad Thai and Green Chicken Curry are still go-to dishes for many diners, regional dishes like laap, crispy rice salad, and other Northern Thai street foods are beginning to capture the hearts of Americans. These dishes have been made popular in the U.S. by chefs like Andy Ricker and Kris Yenbamroong on the West Coast, and now Northern Thai cuisine has made its way to Kansas City, thanks to Pam Liberda.
Liberda, owner and chef of Waldo Thai Place, grew up in Lampang, Thailand. After pursuing a career in nursing, she decided to make a change and follow her passion for food and cooking. She and her husband Teddy opened Waldo Thai Place mid-2018, and while they have steadily grown a following, it hasn’t been easy to educate people on what Northern Thai food is. In fact, Teddy’s family owned several Thai restaurants across Kansas City featuring dishes from the Central region of Thailand, and many people expected Waldo Thai to have a similar menu.
“It was very hard for me to change the menu,” Pam explained, “but also I wanted to try to push and show people how we eat at home. Almost every Thai restaurant around town pretty much has the same menu. We don’t want people to know what they’re going to order before they even walk through the door. I want people to be open minded, and to walk into the restaurant and say, ‘what’s on the menu today that we should try?’”
Many of Pam’s popular dishes, such as the Khao Tod Nam Sod, pair beautifully with Waldo Thai’s signature cocktails. The bar director, Darrell Loo, has worked closely with Pam to integrate many of the ingredients from her dishes into the cocktails themselves.
“We use the term ‘Asian-inspired cocktails,’” Darrell said. “It’s always fun when you are able to work with the kitchen using the same type of ingredients, and then try to channel the cocktail program back to the food program.”
While the food and drink are reason enough to visit Waldo Thai, we’ve also fallen in love with Pam and Darrell and their drive to be true to themselves. Both felt pressure from their families and culture to pursue a “safe” career in medicine or business, yet they’ve chosen to follow their calling into the restaurant industry.
Darrell says it’s all been worth the risk because he’s finally found a career that brings him joy, and he gets to work with people every day who appreciate him for who he truly is. “If I don’t love myself—if I cannot look at myself and say ‘this is who I am’—then I can never make other people believe in me either.”
Waldo Thai Place
Address: 8431 Wornall Rd, Kansas City, MO 64114