Brookline Gets a Thai-Inspired ‘Elevated Dive Bar’ from the Mahaniyom Team

Here’s a sneak peek at Merai, opening this spring in the former Matt Murphy’s Pub space and mixing Thai flavors with global cuisines.

Thai-style small plates are spread across a table, including sausage in a bun, dumplings, noodles in a thick orange sauce, and more.

A spread of dishes from the opening menu at Merai, with lobster-topped khao soi fettuccine in the foreground. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Thai flavors meet global dishes and refreshing highballs at Merai, the soon-to-open second restaurant from the team behind Brookline Village’s award-winning Thai restaurant Mahaniyom. Set to debut in April in the former Matt Murphy’s Pub space, just steps away in Brookline Village, Merai is an “elevated dive bar,” says co-owner Chompon “Boong” Boonnak. Think: dark, moody interior (until you get to the technicolor bathroom, that is); a concise food menu of creative, booze-friendly dishes; and a mix of craft cocktails and “easygoing” beer and wine.

Crispy, glazed chicken pieces sit on a green plate with small pickles.

Merai’s chicken garlic rice (the rice is hiding inside the deboned chicken wing.) / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Thin noodles sit in a thin orange broth with a hard-boiled egg, shrimp, cucumber slices, and a thick red chili jam.

Merai’s Korean-style cold buckwheat noodles with tom yum broth and chili jam. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Philosophically, Merai feels similar to big sibling Mahaniyom, which is inspired by ran lao, casual Thai bars. But the menu at the older restaurant stays within Thailand’s borders, faithfully serving up dishes that are reminiscent of the team’s various hometowns. Merai, meanwhile, takes some of those favorite Thai flavors, uses them as a starting point, and mixes in inspiration from other world cuisines. It’s symbolic, according to the team, of remembering where you’re from, but following your dreams and trying to fit in elsewhere. It’s also an exciting challenge in creativity, says Boonnak, since the team is used to “making everything authentic Thai” over at Mahaniyom—and it helps differentiate the two businesses, which are just a two-minute walk apart. “It lets our customers enjoy two different styles [of cuisine] but still lets us focus on what we do best, which is Thai,” says Boonnak.

Thick risotto is topped with mushrooms and a lemon wedge.

Merai’s tom kha mushroom risotto (vegan). / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Steamed mussels are topped with cilantro and have a side of toasted bread.

Merai’s steamed mussels with southern Thai-style curry. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The opening menu features around a dozen small, meant-for-sharing plates. There’s khao soi fettuccine, for example, topped with either lobster or chicken, melding the rich flavors of northern Thailand’s famous sunshine-yellow curry with classic Italian pasta. Italy also gets a nod with a tom kha mushroom risotto—surprisingly vegan, thanks to the use of coconut milk instead of the usual dairy-based ingredients. Chef Tanapon “Song” Authaiphan (also chef at Mahaniyom) reduces the coconut milk with lemongrass, galangal, and makrut lime, other classic flavors of the creamy hot and sour soup tom kha.

Crispy shrimp tempura sits in a thick yellow sauce.

Merai’s shrimp tempura with curry aioli. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Beef tartare is topped with a cured egg yolk and has sides of thinly slices cucumbers and Asian pears, a lime wedge, and toasted bread.

Merai’s yukhoe, Korean-style beef tartare with Thai spices. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Other dishes are influenced by different Asian cuisines. Like the garlic chicken rice, a deboned chicken wing stuffed with rice and sweetened with a reduction of fish sauce and palm sugar. It’s a play on Korean fried chicken, which is sometimes coated in a sweet honey, soy, and garlic sauce. Korean cuisine also gets a showcase with the yukhoe, beef tartare (Merai’s take gives the beef a Thai laap-style seasoning) and a dish reminiscent of bibim guksu, Korean cold buckwheat noodles (served here with a Thai chili jam instead of a Korean chili paste and in a Thai tom yum-style broth). Also on the menu: Chinese-style dumplings stuffed with laap-style pork, and Japanese-style shrimp tempura with a Thai curry-inspired aioli.

A hot dog is topped with a squiggle of a mustard-like sauce and has a side of crispy bacon strips.

Merai’s kra pao sausage with caramelized onions, salted yolk mayo, and bacon. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

A white plate is full of kale and pumpkin slices.

Merai’s kale salad with peanut dressing, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

A few dishes toy with American cuisine: There’s the hot dog, for example; at first glance, it does look, well, like a hot dog, nestled inside a toasted brioche bun. But the meat is a pork sausage based on kra pao, the classic Thai holy basil stir-fry, sitting on a bed of caramelized onions, drizzled generously with salted egg yolk mayo, and accompanied by crispy strips of bacon. It’s the best of American and Thai comfort foods. There’s also a kale salad, because “kale salad is really well known in Boston,” says Boonnak with a laugh. It gets a Thai spin with a peanut sauce-inspired dressing, plus pumpkin slices and sunflower seeds.

Japanese-style clumps of rice in a seaweed wrapper are topped with thin egg strips.

Merai’s onigiri. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

An orange flan sits on a white plate.

Merai’s Thai tea flan (vegan). / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

To drink, bar manager Panupong “Earth” Viriyaponsukij is highlighting easy-drinking cocktails, especially highballs—aiming for a mix of earthy, fruity, and savory options—and flavors from around Asia. There’s the Bori Bori, for example, with yuzu and Korean toasted rice-infused vodka, and a hojicha highball, which infuses small-batch Teeling Irish Whiskey with hojicha (roasted green tea), plus honey, lemon, and soda water. On the heavier side, there’s an Old Fashioned-style drink with a brown butter wash and coffee; that one features the Japanese-inspired but American-made Baller Single Malt Whiskey from California-based St. George Spirits.

A pink cocktail, topped with foam, sits in a delicate glass on a shiny black bar.

Merai’s Sober Opera cocktail, with gin, elderflower, lychee, rose, lemon, and egg white. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The bar takes up a large portion of the long, narrow space—the concept is “elevated dive bar,” after all—but there’s a bit of standard seating along the right wall, which features a mural by Ponnapa “Gift” Prakkamul (who also did the black-light mural in Mahaniyom’s bathroom and the colorful collage-style mural in Merai’s). Done in shades of gray with gold accents, the mural is a subtle touch for the dark space, but look closely and you’ll see traditional Thai-style characters with some modern details, with each character representing a member of the Merai team. (Boonnak’s figure, for example, is holding a drink and a plunger, a nod to the multi-tasking required from his position, while co-owner Smuch “Top” Saikamthorn “is basically holding the whole world because he carries all of us,” says Boonnak.)

A dark restaurant dining room features a gray and gold mural of Thai-style figures and an ocean scene.

Merai’s dining room, with mural art by Ponnapa “Gift” Prakkamakul. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

A restaurant bathroom mural features a yellow, purple, and orange cityscape.

Merai’s bathroom. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The art is inspired by a Thai idiom about enduring hardships to achieve one’s goals. “We are immigrants, working very hard for our American dreams,” says Boonnak. “We want to be successful in this country, and we’ve all come together like a family.”

Opening around late April 2024, starting with dinner and late-night service Tuesday through Sunday. 14 Harvard St., Brookline Village,