AZTEC — Is the way to a man's heart still through his stomach? Ask Randy Orbesen.

Mr. Orbesen, president of Four Suns Builders, a local construction company, was having lunch with friends at Basil Thai, near the corner of S. Main and Chaco, when he first spotted her, the waitress with the exotic name. Soon, he made every excuse to grab a plate of Pad Thai or orange chicken there, hoping Thipsuda (or "Tip," as she's called. "Thai names tend to run long," Orbesen said) would be there.

"It was so ironic," he said. "I had to be dragged to my first Thai place. I didn't even know what in the world to order, or what the items on the menu were, only that I really liked it."

The Aztec construction guy and the alluring woman from Sakon Nakhon, a northeastern province of Thailand, as Orbesen sees it, were simply fated to be.

"She took our order and said something about my looking like Santa because of my longish white beard and my beer-boosted' belly — calling me a Thai word for "chubby" — and everyone laughed," he said.

He recalled the day in 2009 when asked her over to his house in Cedar Hill for a barbecue. "When I went to pick her up, she had everybody from the restaurant there to chaperone her." Not long afterward, the two were married.

By late July of this year, the owner of Basil Thai, where Tip worked, was moving to Los Angeles and put the cafe up for sale. Tip had just returned from a visit to family in Thailand and as soon as she learned of the owner's desire to move, she made plans to buy it. "She and I discussed it and by Aug. 1 Basil Thai became Thanthip, which means "magical spring," Orbesen said.

Asked what she likes most about living in Aztec, Thipsuda flashed a winning smile. "The people," she said. "I like all the small-town charms; our teenaged children, Fawn and Pat (hers from a previous marriage in Thailand) go to school at Aztec.

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A hometown friend, Thida Green, who also met and married an Aztecian, Butch Green, drew her to the area. Thida and Butch met when he dined at the Elizabeth Hotel, in Bangkok, where Thida was working as a waitress.

"Thida and Butch encouraged me to move to Aztec," she said. "They opened their home to me, and soon I was working at Basil Thai."

Now that she owns and runs her own restaurant, Thipsuda wants to make her eatery a popular spot for residents and tourists alike, but so far the newly sprung cafe relies on word-of-mouth. "We will have our own website, including Facebook, soon," she said. "The important thing is the delicious food that people can tell their friends about. When people try our food, cooked by two ladies I hired from Thailand, they always walk away happy."

Thanthip's menu, which was designed by her teenaged daughter, a student at Aztec High School, sports a five-tiered "spice meter" on the cover: one star for a hint of spice all the way to five stars for "super spicy."

"I'm a mid-range, 3-star diner myself," Orbesen said. "Many people just don't know enough or much at all about Thai food, and sometimes the spicy element can scare 'em off. Some like to fire it up while others like to favor the flavor over the heat. We want them to be in charge there."

The Orbesens like to do a bit of cuisine melding, offering eclectic creations like a "Thai burrito" (scrambled eggs, ham, onions, and veggies done "Thai style") or Spaghetti Kee Mao (spaghetti noodles stir-fried with Thanthip house sauce, basil leaves, onions, bean sprouts, bell peppers and beef, pork or tofu), while still offering fan favorites like Pad Thai and Thai BBQ Chicken.

And then there's the deep-fried whole catfish, adorned with mint, chiles, lime juice and onion. Or the Lotus, a dish of pride at Thanthip, which features slices of chicken breast seared in a spicy Ka Pao sauce, mixed with bell peppers, onions, and served on a bed of steamed cabbage.

"We are the only place we know of who offer perks other places charge for," Orbesen said. "If you order an entree, you're going to get free rice, and free soup du jour, too."

Wiphawadee Smith, a server at Thanthip who moved to Aztec from Udonthani, Thailand, this year, enjoys informing diners of must-have Thai dishes. "When customers come in," server Wiphawadee — or, Wip — said, "many times they ask, What is a popular dish?' and I tell them to not miss the Tom Kha Kai" — a richly flavored chicken soup made from quintessential Thai ingredients: coconut milk, lemongrass, fresh ginger, lime juice, chile paste and basil. "They may know about Pad Thai" — a stir-fry noodle dish, easily Thailand's most popular culinary export — "but they also like our Lotus dish a lot," she said.

Since taking over ownership three months ago, the Orbesens have made aesthetic changes to attract more patrons — Orbesen's construction company applied fresh coats of paint in soothing aquatic shades inside and out and did some light remodeling of interior walls. The couple has recently applied for a liquor license and hope to add live music, too.

Dustin, 29, Orbesen's dobro-playing son from a previous marriage, will likely be the first act to play at the cafe's official grand opening, as soon as their liquor license is approved. His band, the Squash Blossom Boys, who hail from Albuquerque, play traditional Bluegrass songs on a recent album, "Outside Lookin' In."

Until they can officially celebrate their Main Street cafe with a grand opening later this fall, the Orbesens enjoy expanding the local community's culinary tastes and hope to make Thanthip a gathering place where people can come, enjoy a tasty meal, socialize with friends, and, if the stars align like they did for the Orbesens, even fall in love.

Thanthip Thai Cafe, 104 S. Main Ave, is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call (505) 334-1234.