Thai-Mex switch: Cuisines swap locations

We've all heard of Tex-Mex, but Thai-Mex? Besides a few similarities– spring rolls and burritos, for one, and a penchant for chili peppers and lime juice– Thai and Mexican cuisines have precious little in common.

In Charlottesville, however, the two have recently performed a sort of geographic switcheroo.

Back in February, Thai Thip vacated its sizeable space on Long Street (in the same plaza as a Papa John's and the new Pita Inn) and moved into the former home of Mexican eatery Los Potrillos on the corner of Water and Second streets. Though a reincarnated Los Potrillos hasn't yet blipped on Dish's restaurant radar, enchiladas and fajitas have been available at the new El Tapatio since May 21 in-­ yes, you guessed it– the former Thai Thip spot.

The name el tapatio refers to a native of Mexico's Jalisco state. Owner Juan Huerta and his brother Pepe, the restaurant's chef, are both from Jalisco's capital city, Guadalajara. The 31-year-old Juan actually got his start at the Guadalajara restaurants here in Charlottesville– where he worked his way up from dishwasher to cook.

It didn't take much time (a mere two months) to transform a Thai into a Mexican restaurant. The Huertas didn't change a thing in the dining room, and focused renovations instead on the kitchen, where Pepe cooks up specialties like his "Burrito Jalisco" (flour tortilla stuffed with pork and cooked with tomatoes, onions and bell peppers), "Mole Poblano," and a variety of "Aztez Grille Specialties" (carne asada, steak ranchero, chori pollo).

El Tapatio is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. An ABC license­ and with it margaritas, beer, and wine­ should be arriving any day.

And now back to the other half of my story: Thai Thip, now known as Downtown Thai. As many of you have noticed, even though owner Pikke Inthisen has been paying rent since February, her addictive pad thai and panang curry are still not available on Water Street. Why the delay? Dish dropped into the constantly transforming space­ intricate, traditional wood paneling one week, drywall, and modern light fixtures the next­ to get the story.

Stumbling through the darkness of the dining room's construction zone, I found petite, smiling Pikke in the kitchen, cookin' up fish soup for lunch. The former dance teacher from Bangkok graciously brushed the dust from a chair and motioned for me to sit. She put her hands over her heart. "For me, the heart, the love is what matters," she says.

Pikke explains that a business dispute has arisen, and now she is attempting to buy her partners out in order to retain sole-ownership of Downtown Thai. Since she says she's the one running everything from the kitchen (all the healthy, authentic recipes are hers) to the design to the management ("now-hiring" signs were posted a few weeks ago), she could have more than a fighting chance.

But will these negotiations cause even further delays? Pikke says no, and, her obvious energy makes it hard not to believe her.

She plans to open her streamlined, colorful dining room (earth tones on the walls, an orange bar, bright red tables, uncovered windows) in mid-June for lunch, happy-hour, dinner, and late-night seven days a week.

What's up with this seven days a week trend? In Italy, where Dish is travelling as you're reading this, such a relentless grind is considered totally pazzo– crazy!

Lemongrass coming soon, promise!