UPDATED Dec. 21: The Boston Globe's Best area restaurants in 2022 says: new neighborhood joint: “BoonNoon Market in Arlington. Here, Nutthachai “Jeep” Chaojaroenpong (DakZen) serves bright, craveable Thai dishes cooked to order as you browse your way through the store, picking up house-made snacks, herbal remedies, instant Thai noodles, and so much more.”

BoonNoon Market has garnered plenty of attention in recent months, and with good reason. Co-owner Nutthachai Chaojaroenpong will be familiar from his stint at food destination Dakzen in Davis Square.

EATinton logo: Fred Kalil
Frederick Kalil reviews

If BoonNoon’s menu selections at first glance appear more modest, it allows a sampler to tackle the menu head-on. De rigueur items such as pad thai and chicken satay appear alongside less familiar ones likely to engage the curiosity of area chow hounds. Regular visitors will be enticed by featured additions that make it worth straying from standby favorites to investigate; for example, slow-cooked nam daeng ribs with Chinese broccoli. But the personal touches and warm hospitality are what you’ll take away with you from your visit. 

While earning his master's degree in marketing communications at Boston College, Chaojaroenpong’s first start-up, Rootastes, served healthy corporate lunches around greater Boston. Thirty-three-year-old Jeep, as he’s familiarly known, learned cooking with his mother in Pak Chong, Thailand, an area located between the central culinary region (gra prow, tom yum, and curries) and northeastern Isan (larb, som tum with sticky rice). Dishes unique to BoonNoon include original recipes for spicy satay noodles, wings zab and a lemon chicken variation on gai manow, traditionally made with lime. 

The nickname? Chaojaroenpong’s culinary-trained father had an auto-body shop and drove a military green Jeep. (Jeep’s older and younger siblings went by the names Chev and Benz. I’m informed that Benz is a not uncommon nickname thereabouts.)

Commitment to evolve

BoonNoon’s current menu still bears the “soft opening” designation, in this case indicative of a commitment to evolving the offerings while the small establishment continues to fine-tune. One notable success that’s earned permanent status is the wings zab: a spicy glorification finished with toasted rice powder and joined by a zingy red onion salad dressed in lime and cilantro. I recommend ordering them with sticky rice. 

On another visit, I relied on Jeep’s recommendation to get the ua lo, a house-made northern Thai spicy sausage. Unctuously juicy and addictive in flavor, mine were enjoyed with an order of the spicy satay noodles in peanut sauce, another suggested choice. Like the sausage, the noodles belie their printed description by impressing beyond the sum of their ingredients. I took this as a clue that deep digging into the menu was sure to yield other rewards.

If pad thai is a benchmark dish for evaluation purposes, BoonNoon’s transcended expectations. Tangy with tamarind and demonstrating a pleasingly earthy foundation of malt notes from high-quality palm sugar paste, the umami factor scored highly. Details sealed a favorable impression, in this case the scattering of egg ribbons, crispy shallots and toasty crushed peanuts. Of course, whenever you are presented with a lime wedge, it is expected to be applied.

Curry special

A listed special shows off what the kitchen can do in the curry department. Our protein option was tofu, and the green curry du jour was redolent of basil, galangal and slivers of makrut lime leaf. Vegetables populating the dish included crunchy bamboo shoots and some beautiful small eggplant, all bathing in a nicely sharp soup base. Eminently repeatable.

Although not stated on the menu, vegan adjustments can be accommodated for most dishes.

Future developments include expanding kitchen area and storage to allow adding more menu items. Delivery capability is also being planned.

Don’t neglect to explore the imported goods in the market section, a wonderland that repays deep perusal. For your consideration: tom yum concentrate for soup, curry pastes, preserved radish (for your homemade pad thai), nam prik pow chili paste (for cashew chicken, recipe on back of container), organic palm sugar paste (wonderful for sweetening coffee), pandan extract (to flavor your rice or cocktail) and many other staples. Hot take: I found the snack selection to be a rich pocket of stocking stuffers for jaded family members.

It was only a couple years ago that Arlington was home to three Thai restaurants. Two of those, Thai Moon and Thana Thai, have since closed. So it’s a cause for some gratitude that we’ve seen the highly successful opening of a new one that also serves as a welcome source for Thai grocery items. 

BoonNoon Market, 161 Mass. Ave., East Arlington
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This restaurant review by YourArlington freelancer Frederick Kalil was published Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, and was updated Dec. 21, 2022, to add information from the Boston Globe.

A resident of Arlington, Kalil has been eating food since birth. Starting from a home where family cuisine ranged from kibbeh to cretons, he has sought high standards and a world of flavor at his own table and when dining out. After years of writing about dining options for the neighboring Tufts community, Fred now explores local kitchens for his fellow Arlingtonians.