Before blustery days take hold, I like to hold onto the tropics, in some vestige or another. Yesterday, it meant ordering Thai from a server casually fitted with a summer straw-fedora, one of those Indian-styled elephant button downs, shorts, and sandals. I considered a coconut-based cocktail, and toyed with eating outside on their wooden tables. In the heart of Omotesando, Gapao Shokudo was a perfect lunchtime break, an hour excursion.

I confess—I didn’t know the word, “shokudo” until yesterday. It is the Japanese equivalent of “cafeteria”, a word I haven’t heard for some time—since visiting a local high school here. It was indeed cafeteria-quick, but think a quick jaunt to an exotic locale, or a caterer plating your food, rather than older women in orthotics, scooping hamburger surprise onto your divided tray. Before I could utter, “Tom Yum soup”, my lunch order arrived. My lunch companion told me it would be fast, but this was pretty incredible.

Though the restaurant’s namesake is gapao, a simmered dish of chicken and basil, I more adored their green curry, also ladened with fragrant basil. The lunchtime fare is pretty preened; starting at ¥980, you can choose your favored curry (massaman or green), served alongside a ubiquitous lunchtime salad, and a soup, hearty with chicken and fresh herbs. For the same price, enjoy their gapao chicken, rice, and a curry, with the other two sides. Another ¥100 buys you dishes of both the massaman and green curry, with a sizable portion of the gapao chicken (basil-chicken), and jasmine rice. I wondered about the size of my rice—if it would easily hold-out while I finished my spicy and sweet dishes. It did. If I had run into a oh-no-where-did-my-rice-go-and-this-is spicy-problem, ¥300 buys another jasmine rice bowl. However, ordering omori, or extra-sized, is ¥100. Better to know these things ahead of time, no?

Thai lunch
My 990 meal would have been sweeter with a complimentary Thai tea or juice, but it was tremendously gratifying and filling. | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

Each dish used chicken as its protein, and seeing them on my tray felt a bit too much the same–a little too safe. However, the massaman, green curry, and gapao all taste and feel so different, that my taste was certainly sated and I enjoyed every bite, especially with that basil permeating throughout. Plus, chicken pieces in the massaman and green curry are quite large and tender.

CNN recently revealed readers’ votes for the world’s most delicious fifty foods. Outranking sushi, chocolate, and other delicacies such as pho, potato chips, Neopolitan pizza, and lobster, massaman curry made it to number 9. There is another CNN listing which puts Massaman curry at number 1. Either way, CNN and polled eaters launch this “king of all curries” past numerous beloved dishes. It reads, “Spicy, coconutty, sweet and savory, its combination of flavors has more personality than a Thai election”. Theirs is hearty and yet light, a fragrant bath of potatoes, chicken, lemongrass, coconut milk, red peppers, and tomato. The tastes mix beautifully, as expected.

Green curry is my rock-star, though. Simple, delicately infused with aroma, and a bit spicy, Gapao Shokudo does theirs very well. Green peppers, bamboo shoots, and onions are plentiful. I might just stick with the green curry next time, order a side of noodles, and wash it down with a crisp Singha beer.

Tom Yum soup, Thai, Thai noodles
Spicy, Sweet, and Rolling in Noodles, the Tom Yum soup is as refreshing as it is warming. | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

Their tom yum soup with noodles is also a contender. A Thai kind of soba with all the spicy, coconut warmth, and radiance you’d hope for, with two large and boisterous shrimp that would also be clamoring for more.

You really cannot go wrong. The staff is friendly, clad in tropical smiles and attentive service. The bar is cozy and promising, with their many tropical ovations, as well as Japanese standards. You can hitch-up to their rich wooden bar to drink, as well as eat the ambiance, your ¥980 lunch plated in a flash, and served with casual flair.

Thai bar
Can I get you mango beer? Something with Cassis? A Phuket beer, or perhaps, a guava highball? | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

Gapao Shokudo offers take-out and does dinner, of course. Two interesting eating areas are available—a loft room or a more swanky-feeling mini-room, with a table seating four. Think pendant light and stand-out red. This could be a no-fuss setting for ladies night out, a book-club backdrop, whereas the upstairs loft seems more suitable for more casual work parties, or just a different dining view.

Vegetarians should only come for dinner where tofu vermicelli, loads of veggie dishes, and various noodly-basil dishes await. Lunch only bears chicken. Delicious chicken, but chicken, nonetheless.

Granted, there are a myriad of Thai restaurants to choose from, but Gapao Shokudo is an upbeat option, quaint in its tucked-away side-street, just off Aoyama Dori, equidistant (six minutes) from both Omotesando station and Shibuya station.

Gapao Shokudo Outdoor seating
Easy-going outside seating for those crisp, fall days ahead to enjoy with green papaya salad, Thai spring rolls, and a heft of drink-options. | Photo by Gregory Lane
Pointing out some interesting dinner specials at Gapao Shokudo. | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

To make things slightly confusing, there is another branch of Gapao Shokudo in Shibuya.

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