We've been missing a restaurant like this, and now we have it.
In the historic building that has housed Wong's, Sontes and Grand Rounds Brewing/Nellie's on Third, is ThaiPop, which has been open not quite a month.
Not that it is a stranger to Rochester. Annie and Ryan Balow, the owners, have been preparing Thai cuisine in a variety of locations since 2014, including Forager and Marrow, as well as Grand Rounds, and early on, in their apartment. Annie is the chef/owner, and Ryan the general manager of this newest venture.
What she prepares is a culmination of many years of experimenting with the recipes, but there are two ingredients that are critical to her success: her passion for what she does, and her love of preparing her homeland's dishes.
It started with inviting friends to their apartment.
"Our apartment has a community room, and we would prepare and serve dinners there for friends, and then friends of friends. We loved doing that. Since Annie is the cook and I'm the social animal, it's a great partnership," Ryan said.
Though these gatherings were private, they were getting recognized for what Annie was preparing. Word began to spread.
One who took special notice was Annie Henderson, owner of Forager.
"She reached out to us and asked if we were interested in a small space she had available for a pop-up restaurant," Ryan said.
They were, and very quickly, it became the place to go for authentic Thai. There were two seatings, and they were always filled.
"We would prepare these multicourse dinners, serve, then go home too tired to fix anything and would have some ramen," Ryan said.
Meanwhile, Annie was also working as a server at Whistle Binkies on the Lake, and Ryan was at the Deli at the People's Food Coop. (He is now a recruiter for AmeriCorps.)
Serendipity then stepped in.
At a meeting of the Rochester Women's Forum, Annie met Tessa Leung, longtime food and wine entrepreneur. She wondered if Annie might be interested in a chef-in-residence program at Marrow. She was, and excited, too, to be working with Paul Bergsland, a James Beard winner. Thai cuisine was served in an eight-course tasting menu from Monday to Wednesday.
Again, her followers were there, consistently selling the place out.
As a chef/cook, Annie experiments, and what she serves are often her own creations using a Thai recipe as a base.
In pursuit of new dishes, the Balows traveled to Southeast Asia in January 2020, first visiting her family in Thailand, then going on to Korea and Vietnam.
"I was looking for more inspiration," she said. They made it home just before COVID-19 lockdowns began.
This past spring, they were told that Nellie's on Third was closing, and were asked if they were interested in the space. As they were pondering that project, they also had to consider taking care of their 3-month-old baby girl. But this was an opportunity they'd been hoping for.
Now ThaiPop is fast becoming one of the most popular spots in town, again consistently selling out. Ryan emphasizes that reservations are necessary.
The menu has a variety of choices, from snacks, bowls, plates and dishes to share. You'll need to try the popular yum yum wings (2,000 sold out in two days), the ThaiPop pad thai, and the walleye green apple entrée, as well as special curries. The bar also has an interesting creative selection.
While the cuisine is what customers are excited about and what brings them in the door, I was impressed that when you walk in off of Historic Third Street, you are visually transported to Thailand. The décor and ambiance takes you right there, which was their goal.
It is indeed a special place.
If you go
Hours: 2 to 9 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday
Address: 4 Third St. SW, Rochester
Food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.