Denver's downtown Thai cart matriarch opens Thai Street Food restaurant in Aurora

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The woman who runs the Thai street cart on the 16th Mall? You know -- the one that commands queues that sometimes stretch beyond an hour during the lunch rush? The same Thai street cart that we heaped praise on in this year's Best of Denver? That cart? Yeah, well, the woman behind that cart -- Utumporn Killoran -- quietly, and without fanfare, recently opened her first restaurant: Thai Street Food at 11650 Montview Boulevard, in the former space most recently occupied by Grandma's Korean Grill, which went dark a few months ago.

And that, chile warriors, is some of the best news we've reported all year.

Killoran, who was born near Laos and moved to Denver six years ago, still plants her cart at 16th and Stout streets during the week, but in April she opened the restaurant, which, as of now, is only open for lunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday, because she wanted her own kitchen. "I was fed up with the commissary kitchens downtown -- they're terrible -- and I wanted to cook out of my own kitchen, so I opened the restaurant, which also gives people the opportunity to sit down and have lunch or dinner without standing outside," says Killoran, who runs the restaurant with her husband and son.

Her menu, an expanded repertoire of what she slings from her cart, includes curries and noodles, stir-fries and salads, along with several exotic dishes from the Isaan region of Thailand. And in keeping with street-food prices, nothing on the menu rings in at more than $7.

There's no liquor license, and the furnishings are minimal, but Killoran's food, which she creates from an open kitchen, is extraordinary, and she doesn't mess around when it comes to heat: There are varying degrees of flame (eight to be exact), and if you're brave enough to tempt fate with her "fire" level, be forewarned that nothing -- not her Thai tea, not rice and certainly not water -- will subdue the burn.

Here's a taste of what I had when I stopped by over the weekend:

Not that Killoran's dishes require an extra jolt of heat, but if you insist, she's happy to supply you with an extra dose of chile bombs, both fresh and ground. Green papaya salad. Thai pork larb. Panang curry with shrimp, lime leaves and crushed peanuts. Tom yum with shrimp and calamari rings. Fresh bananas wrapped in deep-fried spring roll papers dusted with powdered sugar.

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