Sukhothai – A Little Heat to Warm Up a Michigan Winter

By Matt Forster

The essence of Thai cuisine is a matter of balance; taking the traditional tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter—and blending them to create a complex yet balanced gastronomic experience. A product of the hot and humid heart of Southeast Asia, Thai food has become a well-established import, especially here in Rochester where you can find any number of carryout Thai places. Harder to find is a Thai restaurant suitable for an evening out. This is when you head over to Sukhothai in Rochester Hills.

Chicken Satay

Tucked between a strip mall and an Enterprise Rent-A-Car, this cozy restaurant on Auburn just west of Rochester Road was once the home of a rock-and-roll–themed PizzaPapalis. The walls once featured electric guitars, but now the dining room’s dark woods complement a modern Asian décor.

We recently stopped by Sukhothai for lunch. Lovers of Thai will find the menu stocked with the classics, dishes that feature traditional Asian ingredients—tamarind juice, coconut milk, crushed peanuts, rice noodles, bamboo shoots, kafir lime leaves, and galangal.

Sukhothai’s Pad Thai

Feeling less adventurous than usual, I ordered the Pad Thai with chicken, and my lunch companion went with the chicken satay. (The two kids at the table were content to pack away the light vegetarian spring rolls.) My meal began with soup, and I ordered the Tom Kha. This is the perfect dish to highlight the complexity of flavors found in Thai cuisine. From the semi-sweet coconut milk rose competing and complementary aromas—lemongrass and galangal, most prominent. It was hot and sour, as well as sweet, with an underlying umami that made the soup feel much hardier than expected.

The wait staff, nearly all Thai themselves, clearly takes pride in the restaurant. This is a second eatery for owner Tawat Sittipong, whose first restaurant was in Oak Park, also called Sukhothai. Literally, the name means dawn of happiness, though it refers to the old city of Sukhothai, which was the center of the Sukhothai Kingdom—understood to be the symbolic beginning of the modern nation of Thailand.

The move to Rochester was a tricky one. Sukhothai moved in right on the heels of another Thai restaurant, and because of licensing issues, they couldn’t quickly change the name to make the change in ownership clear. Since then, they have earned a reputation for great food in a fine atmosphere. The restaurant recently won a Civic Beautification Award from the Rochester Garden Club, and in the summer the landscaping serves as a backdrop to outdoor dining.

About Matt Forster

A native of Michigan, Matt Forster has lived in various parts of the country and written five books based on his travel and experiences—Colorado: An Explorer’s Guide, Backroads & Byways of Michigan, Best Tent Camping Michigan, Best Hikes Near Detroit and Ann Arbor, and Backroads & Byways of Ohio. Matt recently completed his Master Naturalist certification. To find out more, visit his website

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