Asian fried street fare comes to Bay View
It’s a cold, gloomy day when I walk up to Todd I Believe I Can Fry, on the northern edge of Bay View. But I perk up near the door, where the air is warm and heavy with the scent of freshly fried chicken.
The new counter-serve spot dishes up all kinds of fried Asian snacks. The restaurant opened in late January.
“It was an incredible soft opening for us. We didn’t expect to get that busy,” said owner Paphitchaya “May” Liotrakun, who spent the last eight years working up the ranks at Rice N Roll Bistro. “They said the food was really good. That’s what I really needed to hear.”
The menu spans Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Thai cuisine. There’s karaage, Japanese fried chicken seasoned with soy sauce and ginger. And takoyaki, golden orbs of octopus cooked in a savory batter. Vegetarians will find crispy fried tofu, veggie tempura and Japanese potato croquettes. Other familiar items include fries, chicken wings and cheese curds.
Customers can dress up their order, choosing from a big selection of sauces or powdery spice mixes, often used in Thai fast food to add a punch of flavor.
“If you want to get ranch here, I’m so sorry, we don’t have one for you,” Liotrakun said, teasing. “We just have the house-made sauces.”
That includes a Seoul BBQ that brings the sweet heat of Korean gochujang and a zingy, spicy Thai larb dust. Who needs ranch?
The idea for the mostly takeout restaurant started in the pandemic, when staffing shortages were stressing restaurants nationwide.
Liotrakun and her team figured a restaurant focused on fried food could keep staffing needs low — and make customers happy with new snack options.
“We came up with the wings and Asian street food that’s just fried,” Liotrakun said. “That’d be easier for a small place, like grab and go.”
The name of the restaurant came naturally from that. Liotrakun and her partner are Thai; “todd” means “fry” in their language.
“Everyone thinks that this place is owned by a person named ‘Todd,’ but it’s actually not!” she said.
So they pushed the joke a bit further and added “I believe I can fry” to the name. To explain the word play, but also nod to R. Kelly’s 90s hit song and the universal promise that frying makes everything taste better.
For Liotrakun, who loves to eat and try new things, inspiration also came from the movies. She was watching TV one day and saw someone tucking into a plate of fried squid.
“When I see food, I want to try it or have that right when I’m watching the movie or TV,” she said. Often, that leads her to a kitchen experiment or seeking that dish out. Now, that ika geso is her favorite dish on the menu.
That’s the spirit of someone who grew up surrounded by food and cooking. Before her family came to Wisconsin, her mother ran a restaurant in Thailand. At first, she thought she wanted to do something different.
“I actually graduated from pre-pharmacy school at first,” Liotrakun said. “But then, since I started working in a restaurant, it made me turn to the food and beverage industry.”
It just felt right. And, she said, there’s less stress in the food world.
Todd I Believe I Can Fry is certainly a space to celebrate cravings, indulgence, and the pleasures of a fresh, golden fry. The space is small, but cheerful. There are a few bar seats for now, with the promise of a big patio to enjoy with warmer weather.
Todd I Believe I Can Fry is located at 2159 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. A1.