Zhang Bistro serves Chinese and Thai dishes in the French Quarter – NOLA.com

Lily Rueangnuy, Song He, Wei Li, Ashley Li and Somsak Netrkaitmaneeto serve Chinese and Thai dishes at Zhang Bistro.

Lily Rueangnuy, Song He, Wei Li, Ashley Li and Somsak Netrkaitmaneeto serve Chinese and Thai dishes at Zhang Bistro.
Although China doesn’t border Thailand on a map, the countries’ cuisines are side by side on the menu at Zhang Bistro, reflecting the culinary heritage of the restaurant’s owners and chefs.
The stylish bistro, which opened in July where Angeli on Decatur used to be, is co-owned by Peter Zhang and his fiancé, Ashley Li, who both hail from China, and their partner Lily Rueangnuy, who was born in southern Thailand. Rueangnuy came to New Orleans a decade ago for college. Zhang is a seasoned restaurateur who co-owns Geisha Sushi Bistro, Royal Sushi & Bar and Haiku Sushi. Rueangnuy met him working as a server, and the two became friends.
“Peter became like my family,” Rueangnuy says. She lived in China for four years and speaks Mandarin. As she cycled through various restaurant jobs, Rueangnuy dreamt of having her own place. “Peter said to me one, day, ‘Why don’t we open a place together?’” Zhang had looked at the space on Decatur six years ago, but it wasn’t available. That changed with the pandemic and Zhang leased the space, which was in need of renovation.
From the beginning, the partners wanted the kitchen divided into two cooking stations, one for Chinese chefs Song He and Wei Li, who are Ashley Li’s mother and father, and one for chef Somsak Netrkaitmaneeto, an experienced Thai chef and Rueangnuy’s family friend. The shared menu pays homage to both types of cuisine.
Wei Li was trained as a chef in China, and the family came to the U.S. 24 years ago. They settled in Memphis, and the couple cooked at the well-regarded Mulan Asian Bistro. Ashley Li, an experienced bartender and beverage director, moved to New Orleans after meeting Zhang.
“I told my parents we need them in our new restaurant, so they moved here to cook for us,” she says. “They wanted to be close to their grandchild, too.” The couple recently had a daughter.
Wei Li’s prowess at the wok is readily apparent. Experienced in various regional Chinese cuisines, he recently traveled in the province of Sichuan, a journey that informs an entree called “hot wok,” a sizzling dish of onion, green pepper, cauliflower, jalapeno and garlic tossed with spicy brown sauce and served with a choice of chicken, beef, shrimp or a combination of all three.
Peking duck, which isn’t a common dish in New Orleans, is made from a Li family recipe. It’s marinated for 24 hours and then slow roasted, delivering tender morsels of duck and strips of crisp lacquered skin, served with house-made buns, scallions, house-made duck sauce and hoisin. The $45 duck is plenty for two people, or for a sample, there’s a single portion for $13. The Chinese entrees on the menu are grouped as classics and signatures — the duck is a signature while classics include kung pao chicken.
For soups, there are shrimp wonton and shrimp tom yum, and fried rice is available in both a traditional Chinese version and a spicy Thai version with chili and Thai basil.
Netrkaitmaneeto, who spent years cooking at Sukhothai in New Orleans, delivers plenty of heat in classics like red and green curry and Thai-style barbecue shrimp with bok choy in curry sauce. Rueangnuy helps out in the kitchen, practicing culinary skills she learned from her mother while growing up. Drunken noodles, called pad kee mao in Thai, is one of her specialties. Wide flat noodles are stir-fried with vegetables and a choice of protein.
“They are as popular as pad thai in Thailand,” she says. All dishes can be adjusted from mild to spicy heat levels.
Ashley Li created the restaurant’s cocktail list, which features New Orleans classics and drinks like the cucumber-basil smash — a shake of cucumber vodka, freshly squeezed cucumber juice, basil leaves, lime and agave.
The space is modern and inviting, with exposed brick walls, a mix of banquettes and wooden tables and chairs, and a long side bar.
The restaurant is adding a new menu with $12 lunch specials and a happy hour to entice customers inside. Zhang Bistro doesn’t have outside tables, but the dining room is airy, and the tables are well spaced.
Ruenangnuy is energized despite the pandemic.
“My fiance and I bought a house in Mid-City,” she says. “We spent more time together and are planning a wedding. And thanks to Mr. Zhang and Ashley, I am co-owner of this restaurant. With his deep experience in the restaurant business to guide me, I’m sure we are going to make it work.”
What
Zhang Bistro
1141 Decatur St., (504) 826-8888
Lunch and dinner daily
Dine-in and takeout
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What
Zhang Bistro
Where
1141 Decatur St., (504) 826-8888; zhangbistronola.com
When
Lunch and dinner daily
How
Dine-in and takeout
Check it out
Traditional and original Chinese and Thai dishes
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