When you enter Cilantro Thai & Sushi Restaurant, it’s a sensory experience.
The aroma of fine food, the glow of white lights and the hum of dinner conversations all combine to form a welcoming ambiance.
For the first time in a long time, my wife, Susie, and I enjoyed a Saturday night out in downtown Akron. I suggested Cilantro because I really missed the food.
Before the pandemic, I had ordered takeout there dozens of times, enjoying such dishes as Pad Thai, Singapore Noodles, Mock Duck Basil, Cashew Nut Stir Fry, Tofu Rama and various sushi rolls — and never once was disappointed. Yet, I had never dined inside.
Owner Charlie Somtrakool, a native of Thailand, opened the elegant restaurant in 2009 at 326 S. Main St. next to Canal Park. The space previously housed Piatto until chef Roger Thomas moved to the Sheraton Suites in Cuyahoga Falls. Before that, the building operated for more 70 years as the City Loan Co., First Federal Savings & Loan Association and Charter One.
You’d never know it used to be a bank. As a hostess led us through the long, narrow restaurant, we passed through a front dining area, sushi bar, cocktail bar and bustling kitchen before arriving at our table in an elevated area of the spacious back room.
Cilantro has a funky, energetic vibe. The hardwood floors have an inlaid star pattern. The modern décor includes origami-style chandeliers and green cloth chairs with wooden arms and legs. White tablecloths are covered with white butcher paper. Silverware is wrapped in orange cloth napkins.
“The color palette is really pretty with the sage and orange,” Susie commented.
So many choices
The contactless menu, viewed with smartphones, offers an overwhelming array of Thai-Japanese cuisine. The menu is divided into “Starters,” “Classic Thai,” “House Specials,” “From the Sea,” “Sushi,” “Japanese Flavors” and “Desserts.”
There are plenty of options for vegetarians, pescatarians and carnivores, and many dishes can be made gluten free upon request. If we started at the top and worked our way down, it might take decades to try everything.
We were there to indulge, so indulge we did.
For starters, we ordered Cilantro’s corn cakes ($7), golden-fried sweet corn fritters served with fresh cucumber slices and ground peanuts in a sweet chili sauce. The light, airy fritters were plenty tasty, but the chili sauce — sweet, tangy and nutty — really added another dimension.
“The more sauce you put on it, the better,” Susie said.
I couldn’t agree more. Before long, we were out of sauce and out of fritters, longing for more.
Next up for me was a bowl of coconut milk soup ($7), made with freshly squeezed lime juice, coconut milk broth, mushroom slices and cherry tomatoes. With a choice of chicken or soft tofu, I selected the former. Rich, hot, creamy and smooth, it was utterly delightful. The restaurant could bottle this and give Campbell and Progresso a run for the money. Be sure to try it if you go to Cilantro.
Spicing it up
For the main course, I ordered Tofu Rama ($15.95), a favorite from my takeout days. It features stir-fried tofu seasoned with ginger and curry powder on top of broccoli, carrots, baby corn and cabbage served with Thai peanut sauce and white rice.
How do I begin to describe the peanut sauce? Luscious. Delectable. Heavenly. It clings to the other ingredients and enhances them all. Cilantro’s sauces add a depth of flavor that a lot of restaurants lack.
In no time at all, I cleaned my plate. (If you aren’t a fan of tofu, no worries: a chicken option is available.)
For her main course, Susie ordered Thai basil fried rice with chicken ($15.95), prepared with stir-fried rice, eggs, basil, red peppers, green peppers, white onions and green onions. Fresh and vibrant, it was a colorful dish with a hearty portion.
“It’s very good,” Susie said. “It’s a nice blend with the basil and the peppers.”
Diners control the spice level at Cilantro. On a scale of 1 to 5, my wife and I both selected 2, which is considered medium. We were happy with our choice. If we had gone much higher, we probably would have needed a fire extinguisher.
“My tongue is definitely tingly, but I would definitely get the same spice level the next time,” Susie said.
Cooling it down
With all that heat, we cooled down for dessert. We split an order of fried bananas and ice cream ($8). The fried slices are wrapped in wonton, topped with honey and sesame and served on coconut ice cream. The crunchy wrappers provided an unusual texture for dessert, but it tasted better and better as we munched our way down. Teeming with shredded coconut, the ice cream was exotically sweet.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our server, Michelle, who was pleasant, attentive, answered all our questions and returned frequently to make sure everything was to our satisfaction.
We were quite full when we left. It felt good to indulge. With beverages and tax, our bill came to $70.21, not including tip.
We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at Cilantro Thai & Sushi Restaurant. It was nice to see so many people dining out after years of downtown construction and pandemic lockdowns.
Cilantro is an ideal place to go before a show at the Akron Civic Theatre, a ballgame at Canal Park or an event at Lock 3.
Thai it. You’ll like it.
Mark J. Price can be reached at email@example.com.
Place: Cilantro Thai & Sushi Restaurant
Address: 326 S. Main St., Akron
Lunch hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
Dinner hours: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday
Service options: Dine in, curbside pickup, delivery
Alcohol: Beer, wine and specialty cocktails
Outdoor patio: Seasonal
More information: Call 330-434-2876, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://cilantrothai.com
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Local Flavor: Cilantro Thai & Sushi Restaurant in downtown Akron offers next-level flavor