Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Nikky Phinyawatana, the creator of Asian Mint, doesn’t call herself a chef.

“I’m more the CEO,” she says. Still, this entrepreneur is winning accolades for her food. In November 2017, the prestigious James Beard Foundation invited her to prepare a New Bangkok-style menu for Thailand’s Full Moon Festival in New York City.

“I grew up in the kitchen with a nanny who took care of me in Thailand,” she says.

Phinyawatana came to the United States when she was 16 as a boarding student at The Hockaday School. After graduation, she majored in entrepreneurial studies at Babson College in Boston, then attended culinary school at El Centro College while waiting tables. 

A customer told her, “Whatever you do, don’t go into the restaurant business. It’s the hardest thing.”

Fifteen years later, she owns three locations of Asian Mint, including the original, which she opened in 2004 at Forest Lane and Central Expressway. In June, she opened Enjoy Mint, a fast-casual spot with a digital ordering kiosk, on Campbell Road in Richardson. Phinyawatana had a hand in the design of each, including acoustical artwork, decorative walls and ceiling tiles that modulate the noise level.

The menu at the original location touts pad Thai, noodles, fried rice, stir fries and a full bar. Crab lover’s special ($22), grilled salmon curry ($20) and crispy red snapper ($24) are some of the house specialties. Bestsellers include crab fried rice ($15), red curry ($12) and Pad Kee Mow ($11 for dinner), which consists of rice noodles, Thai chili basil, soy, egg, red bell pepper, tomato and lettuce. 

But Phinyawatana’s favorites are the Pad Kee Mow Woon Sen, an $11 stir-fry noodle dish with basil sauce, and what she calls “my version” of the Asian noodle salad ($15). “It was something that I always ate at the bar, and customers would ask me what I was eating, so I put it on the menu.”

The restaurant features an innovative kids menu, sponsored by Medical City Children’s Hospital, emphasizing fit food for $6.95. In addition to steamed vegetable dumplings, children can have chicken teriyaki or chicken satay with edamame, salad or steamed vegetables in a bento box. “It wows the kids, and it makes them eat vegetables,” she says. “We cut our carrots into cute little flowers.”

Her 4-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son attend the Westwood School. Phinyawatana’s husband is chief financial officer of the business. The family lives near Preston and Forest.

“I like being part of the community,” she says. “I love moms taking care of moms. I feel their pain. I want to supply them with high-quality fresh food and expand the palates of young kids.” Her son likes the salmon red curry and orange chicken, and her daughter prefers the dumplings or chicken satay.

 “It’s comfort food that people crave. It makes people feel warm, happy and taken care of.”