The tee reads “A Little Bit of Thailand in the Heartland,” and that’s exactly why we went first to Wok N Roll on the Bagnell Dam Strip and then to Nok Noi as soon as the Knernshields opened a second location on the west side.

Jenjira Knernshield, daughter of Nok and Dennis Knernshield, created a T-shirt for Nok Noi in Laurie. The tee reads “A Little Bit of Thailand in the Heartland,” and that’s exactly why we went first to Wok N Roll on the Bagnell Dam Strip and then to Nok Noi as soon as the Knernshields opened a second location on the west side.

The food from Wok N Roll is, as everyone knows, delicious so it stands to reason that the west side food created by Nok, owner and boss in the kitchen, would be just as good. It is. We’ve enjoyed food from both restaurants many times.

What We Liked

We like the fresh ingredients blended expertly. Whether we order dishes favored by most diners or venture into menu items we’ve never tried before, we’ve never been disappointed.

Like others who’ve tried Thai food, we love the curries. Nok says the Pad Cha Red Curry is one of two items most frequently ordered. Its spiced blend of coconut milk, basil, and vegetables with stir-fried pork, chicken, or shrimp is a flavor treat.

Pad Thai is another favorite with us as well as with Nok Noi’s customers. Stir-fried noodles, one of three meat choices, and tamarind sauce satisfy hunger while making diners feel as if “they’ve done something good for your body.” That’s the verdict for all of Nok’s food as judged by Kathy, a member of Nok Noi’s family on the west side. Nok herself would agree. She strives to deliver food that is healthy using fresh not processed ingredients.

One of my favorite foods from Nok Noi is Nam Sod, featuring chicken, lime, sliced apple, ginger, cilantro, and peanuts. The seasonings, once blended and delivered to the table, taste delicious together and never fail to sate my appetite.

My husband Al is fond of curries, not just the red curry, but Panang, Masaman, Green, and Yellow, too. He’s never been disappointed with the spice levels or the flavor combinations when prepared for him at Nok Noi. 

The Heartland

Nok and her husband of 35 years have never been apart long — until recently when Nok returned to Thailand for the first time in 17 years and was away for almost two months. There she reunited with her large family and toured her native country north to south. Much of that travel involved food. Everyone in her family cooks, and everyone volunteers tips and critiques, too.

One of their special family treats is to enjoy the best wherever it may be. Nok and one brother drove an hour one way to enjoy the best soup. On another day, several drove to share the “best” breakfast.

On many of these trips, Nok’s father joined them. At first, remembering their impoverished beginnings, he directed the family to street vendors rather than other dining options. Nok and her siblings had to encourage him to believe the present is better than the past — that it’s a “new day” for all of them.

Nok is partially responsible for the more comfortable, middle-class lives her generation and their children now enjoy. She passed an exam for a prestigious school, but moved to Bangkok instead. There she learned more about the craft and art of cooking passed on to her by her mother and grandmother. She even labored in the kitchen of a five-star restaurant, always setting aside money so that her siblings could go to college, and they did. Now they all enjoy incomes that would allow them to travel together.

For Nok, the trip home allowed her to meet cousins, nieces and nephews in person for the first time. In addition, the country, its fruit and vegetable markets, and her family’s cooking heritage has ignited some ideas that all of us may enjoy in the coming months at Nok Noi. 

What to Expect

Our most recent visit to Nok Noi allowed us to sample Nok’s tuna salad, an item she plans to feature through the 2017 season at Lake of the Ozarks. Bell peppers garnish a generous portion of lean tuna seasoned with cilantro and chilies. The combination is wonderful. Cucumber slices and a few wonton crackers complete the meal.

Everything at Nok Noi and Wok N Roll is presented beautifully. Foods feed the eye before they pass the taste test. The décor at both restaurants is equally pleasing. For Nok Noi, the Knernshields engaged Pasha Sagach who chose bamboo lamps for the entry and dining space. Created by David Trubridge, each lamp illuminates a different pattern on walls and ceilings so that the light “paints” the space. Large acrylic paintings by Suzanne Pointon of Laurie grace the walls and compliment the geometrics designed and executed by Jenjira Knernshield, Nok’s daughter.

The restaurant is truly a family affair even though many on the team are not related by blood. Every person begins by tasting the food and learning to prepare it according to Nok’s directions and standards. One preparation is Nok’s alone, however. She prepares the sauces available to add spice or sweetness as desired.

Nok provides for each table a sweet, golden-hued duck sauce. Two others, one a dark soy-sauce blend and the other green, feature jalapeños. A blend of habañero and cayenne is available by request, and ground cayenne pepper can be brought to the table. Both of these are for the iron-stomachs among us.

If you like a touch of sweet at the end of balanced, spicy meals, then we recommend the Sticky Rice Dessert in a puddle of coconut milk. Lightly sweet, it’s a perfect end to a fine meal in a lovely place among people who will treat you well.