(Published in the February 2011 issue)
Aubiquitous greeting in Thailand, “Gin khao reu yung?” which translates to, “Have you eaten rice yet?" demonstrates that nation’s passion for nourishing people.
Thai cuisine seduces the senses-the salty flavors of fish and peanut sauces, the zesty tang of lime and pineapple juices beckoning for more. Throbbing chilies and curries dial-up the heat, while silky coconut milk soothes the soul in a sweet, warm afterglow. Who’s ready to eat rice now?
In terms of domestic popularity, Thai food may have surpassed Chinese. Or maybe it’s a two-way Thai for first.
Either way, here’s a taste of some of San Diego’s top Thai.
Lotus Thai (pictured above)
Intoxicating aromas waft from the active display kitchen, from which owner Ton Sangkapong’s faves emerge-shrimp dumplings, Bangkok grilled top sirloin salad, savory duck noodles and pan-seared sea bass with a pesto-lime drizzle. Sangkapong touts the eatery’s versatility, specifically its daily dim sum, extensive wine and beer menu and bustling happy hour.
For a sweet finish, try the frozen bliss-green tea and coconut ice creams-then wash it down smooth with cocktails from the full bar. Lotus Thai’s East Village location (pictured above and opposite page) opened in 2004. The original opened in Hillcrest in 1999.Lotus Thai
906 Market Street, East Village, 619.595.0115
3761 Sixth Avenue, Hillcrest, 619.299.8272,
Taste of Thai
Taste of Thai has been blessed with longevity and a loyal following. The eateries’ front man, Mark Habbestad, says the good fortune (which includes successful locations in Hillcrest and Del Mar) is a result of consistently good food, “that’s both contemporary and authentic, with a broad range of choices, that also caters to vegetarians.”
Menu highlights include pork shanks with Thai herbs and spices, trout with green apple salsa and spicy noodles with a choice of toppings for the discriminating carnivore, pescavore or pollotarian.Taste of Thai
15770 San Andres Drive, Del Mar, 858.793.9695.
527 University Avenue, Hillcrest, 619.291.7525,
The place is known for “authentic and healthful Thai dishes, made with fresh ingredients, good quality meats and free-range chicken at a reasonable price,” says manager Nick Attasintong, who recommends the seafood served in a silver boat and the mango curry chicken.
Order from mild to blazing, keeping things cool with a selection from the wine list.Antique Thai
3373 Rosecrans Street, Point Loma, 619.222.0689,
Saffron opened in 1985 with a focus on fast, yet nourishing food inspired by street vendors in Bangkok. The restaurant’s second location opened right next door in 2002 and was modeled after popular Thai noodle houses. Chef/owner Su-Mei Yu, who views food as both a healing and preventative medicine, writes about Thai food and culture for various publications and has penned award-winning cookbooks.
3731-B India Street, bottom of Mission Hills
A few furlongs from the racetrack, this cozy nook is a beloved eatery among Del Mar denizens.
“People enjoy the intimate atmosphere, fresh, authentic food, and we’re vegetarian friendly, too,” says manager Varinda Jinatongthai.
Central Thailand-inspired delights include green papaya salad, traditional soups, drunken noodles and assorted curries. Leave room for fried bananas with silky coconut ice cream.Bangkok Bay
731 South Highway 101, Solana Beach,
Spice and Rice Thai Kitchen
Innovative creations such as prawns with curry lobster sauce, honey-ginger glazed duck and pineapple fried rice presented in a tropical shell fill the menu at Spice and Rice.
“Food is constantly evolving in Thailand," says long-time owner, Kat Bhakdibutr, “and we want to bring it back here.”
Dishes are tweaked per order from mild to super spicy, with plenty of notches in between.
“I’m a medium kind of guy myself," Bhakdibutr says.Spice and Rice Thai Kitchen
7734 Girard Avenue, La Jolla, 858.456.0466,
Compared to the relative newness of neighboring Gaslamp eateries, Royal Thai is practically a historical site.
“After over 20 years, we still keep the menu fresh with updates every year,” says manager James Bun.
One heritage favorite appetizer is the Pots of Gold, crispy shells filled with chicken (real or vegetarian), onion, potato and curry, and served with cucumber chutney. The spicy and sour Pompano fish is another on the most-ordered list.Royal Thai
467 5th Avenue, Gaslamp, 619.230.8424,
If you have a yen for fine Thai dining and gourmet dishes prepared by chefs trained under the tutelage of the Queen of Bangkok’s cook, you’ve come to the right place.
“Everyone loves Celadon shrimp,” says owner Joanne Thao, “blending red curry and coconut milk, straw mushrooms, lime leaves and basil.”
End the meal on a sweet note with one of the Queen’s choices-divine mango sticky rice.Celadon
3671 5th Avenue, Hillcrest, 619.297.8424,
“The wonderful presentation of each dish is just as exciting as the fabulous flavors,” says hubby and co-owner, Tom Techathamnukool.
Techathamnukool recommends the melt-in-your-mouth, curry-braised New Zealand rack of lamb; and his crispy, whole red snapper, glazed in a three-flavor sauce and served with traditional jasmine, brown or sticky rice. Substitute quinoa for a healthful, avant-garde twist.Chedi Thai Bistro
737 Pearl Street, La Jolla, 858.551.8424,
Spices Thai Cafe
The Carmel Valley location is filled with tumult, especially around the clubby bar.
Aromas beckon as an over-the-rainbow curry selection and traditional noodle and pasta dishes mingle with everything from oink and quack to cluck and ribbit-Siamese spare ribs, choo-chee duck, lemon grass chicken on a sizzling plate and deep-fried frog’s legs with spicy chili sauce jump off the menu.
Coconut caramel custard or plum wine ice cream make for sweet endings. Satellite locations are open in Rancho Bernardo and Mira Mesa.Spices Thai Café
3810 Valley Centre Drive, Carmel Valley, 858.259.0889
6785 Mira Mesa Blvd., Mira Mesa, 858.552.8845
16441 Bernardo Center Drive, Rancho Bernardo, 858.674.4665
At Thai Island, dishes from the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai can be ordered with a side of sushi. Owner Tag I touts the restaurant’s Thai barbecue chicken (marinated for 24 hours in a curry and Thai herb sauce) and the Four Season seafood-mouth-watering underwater treasures including green mussels, calamari, crabmeat, shrimp and clams.
1134 7th Avenue, downtown, 619.232.7576