Recently we had an opportunity to pay a return visit to Malisa [aka Lisa or Lulu] Monyakula the owner/chef of Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop located at 20th & Central in the Crossroads Art District, and the sister operation to Lulu’s Oriental Bistro in Westwood, KS. These thriving venues offer primarily Thai inspired cuisine and flavor profiles at both locations clearly represent their strong foundations in Thai food. Cinnamon, cilantro, garlic, onions, lemon grass, Thai chiles, curry, coconut, and many other exotic flavors are expertly blended in savory dishes that blend sweet with sour and come in a range of heats – from mildy spicy to 5-alarm. The perennial favorite and most ordered at the Shop is a dish called “Drunken Noodles” – with a name like that who could resist.
It’s true that many KC Originals restaurants got their starts in families with long “foodie” pedigrees and recipes passed down for generations. Malisa [aka “Lisa” or “Lulu”] was born in Bangkok, Thailand like her Dad, Prateeb Monyakula, a civil engineer by trade, but who is also an accomplished cook and who prevailed upon his mother, Lisa’s grandmother, to pass on her family recipes for all their favorite Thai dishes. He also taught Lisa that the secret to being a rock star in the kitchen is to “love what you do, cook with love – be passionate about it” which is a philosophy well practiced in her two restaurants.
Malisa began her career in retail as the owner of the Groove Farm in Westport (across from the old Valentine Video from late 1989- late 1996). Selling Doc Martens, Vans shoes, Manic Panic hair dye, skate boards, vinyl records, CDs, underground magazines, comics (think R Crumb) and books (think Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, the Anarchist Cookbook,) t-shirts and much, much more! Lisa says “this retail foundation led me to where I am today in business” and while attending college in Lawrence, KS I then created a job for myself by opening the first small Lulu’s there in 1997 and then relocating in Kansas City .”
Lulu’s famous Peanut Sauce and Thai Curry Paste are staples from the family recipe collection and the Satay Chicken and Pad Thai are two of the recipes shared by her Dad. Both the Noodle Shop and the new Asian Bistro have benefitted from Malisa’s own culinary creativity and sensitivity to the Western palates of guests and changing culinary trends. Currently, she tells us, “we are moving quickly on developing a Low-Carb section of the menu with new bowls substituting cabbage and other vegies for noodles] and weekly specials that incorporate proteins that are organic [antibiotic and steroid and msg free].”
To meet other consumer demands they have added Gubhub and DoorDash online delivery services. And they continue to offer delivery or on site catering, as well as offering a semi-private space that seats 40 for events. Lisa and her staff begin every day focused on providing the “best food” and “best service” and “being thankful for every guest.”
Nothing has really changed since we last visited with Lisa. She still clearly believes in what she does — “embracing what food is, and the multiple styles in which the same product can be prepared” – each with its own unique twists. At the heart of that philosophy is the lifelong commitment to preparing “really good food, healthy and fresh, that guests to the restaurant really enjoy eating.” As you read that, think “food lovingly & passionately prepared.”
To learn more about what is going on at Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop or the Asian Bistro, you can visit them at www.lulusnoodles.com. Better yet, drop by either location and join the fun and the wonderful food and service!