This beloved Thai restaurant in North Miami closed last year. Now, it’s back —and bigger

When it closed for a massive renovation and expansion last July, the family-owned Ricky Thai Bistro wasn’t expected to be shut down for long. Husband-and-wife owners Giuliano Carrafelli and Majcha Manomai thought the restaurant would be closed for a few months, then open in time for the busy winter season.

Naturally, because construction runs at its own speed, which is to say no speed whatsoever, the project took twice as long as expected. Long-time customers began to wonder when it was coming back.

Now the tiny neighborhood gem in North Miami has finally reopened at twice the size, returning with Manomai’s classic Thai cuisine, surprisingly reasonable prices and the same friendly, laid-back atmosphere in a much more comfortable, brighter, larger space.

The affable Carrafelli said reopening has been a relief.

“I’m glad we’re still in the market,” he says.

The new dining area of Ricky Thai Bistro in North Miami.
The new dining area of Ricky Thai Bistro in North Miami.

The expansion of the restaurant, which opened in 2011, began in 2018, when the couple signed a lease for the space next door. Carrafelli spent two years drawing up plans for the new Ricky Thai and getting them approved, only to be delayed by the shutdowns during the pandemic in 2020.

The restaurant — named for Carrafelli and Manomai’s son Ricky, 20, now a student at New York University, because he is the most gregarious of their two children — muddled by with its tiny space. Diners couldn’t get enough of the curry, the stir fry, the fried whole fish with chili sauce, one of the best you’ll find in South Florida.

But problems kept cropping up, understandable when you realize the whole restaurant, kitchen and all, fit into the space that’s now the new kitchen. Carrafelli often had to pause takeout orders, a big chunk of the business in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, because the kitchen was too small to keep up, especially on busy weekend nights.

Sometimes in the old kitchen, they had to turn off the air conditioner, leaving Manomai and the cooks literally sweating over the hot stoves. People waiting to pick up takeout orders crowded into the small dining area, making it hard for servers to move around.

“It was impossible to sustain,” Carrafelli says.

Faced with the choice of moving to a new location or renovating, the couple considered what Carrafelli calls their “favorable rent” and decided to stay put and upgrade.

Paiboon Manomai works in the kitchen in the newly expanded Ricky Thai restaurant in North Miami. This new space, designed by owner Giuliano Carrafelli, originally housed the entire restaurant and kitchen.
Paiboon Manomai works in the kitchen in the newly expanded Ricky Thai restaurant in North Miami. This new space, designed by owner Giuliano Carrafelli, originally housed the entire restaurant and kitchen.

“We decided to make the most out of this place, since people knew us,” he says. “It was the best decision. It wasn’t cheap, but I don’t think it would have been any cheaper anywhere else. And keeping the same price point is one of the key factors of our restaurant. We try to be affordable. If you move to a different location, the overheads start to change, and you have to raise prices.”

In an increasingly expensive Miami restaurant landscape, the cost of dining at Ricky Thai is a welcome change. Prices run from $16-$20 for noodles, fried rice, stir fry and curry dishes, with special dishes like duck basil or volcano seafood running $20-$25. The whole fried fish, which on a recent night included a perfectly cooked Florida yellowtail, sells for market price.

Wine prices tend to hover around the $28-per-bottle mark, another surprise. Carrafelli, who was born in Rome, serves some of his favorite Italian wines, the ones that complement his wife’s Thai cuisine (“Our strange wine list highlights this marriage between an Italian man and a Thai woman,” he jokes). Sure, you can find a Barolo behind the bar, but there are plenty of less expensive choices as well.

The original Ricky Thai Bistro in North Miami.
The original Ricky Thai Bistro in North Miami.

There’s still work to be done at the new Ricky Thai, mainly the renovation of a small alcove for semi-private dining. But the changes have improved work life for Carrafelli and Manomai and their team.

“Now it’s a lot easier. There’s no comparison,” Carrafelli says, adding that his favorite part of the renovation is the takeout window, which means people can grab their to-go dinners without having to line up inside the restaurant.

For Manomai, the best part is working in the new kitchen: The comparison with the old space “is day and night,” she says.

Many customers have discovered that the restaurant has reopened (including, on a recent night, former Miami Heat player Udonis Haslem). Carrafelli has noticed that some of his takeout regulars are dining in now, enjoying the extra space.

“I want people to come and enjoy it,” he says. “There is only one thing crucial to this business. You want patrons to come back. The only way to do this is to make them happy. . . . In the Asian culture, and my wife is a Buddhist, there is the concept of karma. I don’t want to earn bad karma. There’s a saying that you shouldn’t serve people what you wouldn’t eat. That applies to us. I eat in the restaurant daily. I want our patrons to eat the same way I eat.”

Anusorn Netpukdee cooks in the kitchen of the newly expanded Ricky Thai restaurant in North Miami.
Anusorn Netpukdee cooks in the kitchen of the newly expanded Ricky Thai restaurant in North Miami.

Ricky Thai Bistro

Where: 1617 NE 123rd St., North Miami

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Sunday

More information: rickythaibistro.com or 305-891-9292

Advertisement