Thai - San Diego
I'm partial to lists, but I will spare you my spreadsheet of the three dozen Thai restaurants in San Diego.
As I've mentioned, most places I've tried around Hillcrest and Mid city have been disappointing. However, I've looked through the board and found a few options.
We ended up trying Thai Time last night, just because it was the closest to our house and had not been reviewed (to my knowledge). I now see that it had been dismissed as Americanized thai by Kirk and some other 'hounds a few years back, and it also seems to have four locations. I should have been tipped off by the lack of asian customers. The spice level was pleasantly high - I believe the Som Tom (papaya) was the hottest I have ever ordered - but the recommended dishes lacked other flavors and balance. The shrimp and seafood was a little overcooked, and the vegetables were of the chop-suey variety in all the dishes I observed. The prices were reasonable enough that I was not too disappointed, but we won't be going back.
While searching today, I found a couple of places that sound interesting.
Thai Cafe (Buffet)
All these have been called "decent" or "not bad" by experienced reviewers. None seems to have stood out above the mediocre level of Celadon, but they may be worth a try. Does anyone else have any experiences at these places?
Now for the interesting ones.
Siam Basil (Siamese Basil?) in Encinitas has several warm reviews on other sites, and a couple older good reviews on this board. It is quite a drive for me; can anyone recommend it? Is the food more flavorful and interesting than the usual San Diego fare?
Bali Thai in Mission Valley (!) had a good review by "Becky" a few months back. It seems to serve Indonesian and Singapore food alongside some thai dishes. It also won the 2005 U-T reader's poll for "Best Thai". Yeah, that may be a bad sign.
Lotus Thai in Hillcrest/Downtown. Some have recommended it, but there have been a couple of bad reviews.
Karinya Thai in Mission Beach. Now this is interesting - None other than e.d. from yuma has enjoyed the whole fish, the curries and the papaya salad at this little place. His post also reminded me that we once ate at a good Thai place by that beach; perhaps this was the one? The food was not so different from Amari or Kitima, in my recollection, but it was done well. Has anyone else tried this place?
I may have to conclude, as many of you have already, that there is no outstanding Thai in San Diego. But that's no reason we should stop trying! There is bound to be a new Punjabi Tandoor or Ba Ren out there somewhere. And there is always Asia Cafe (Laotian).
I did Siamese Basil once and was not impressed. I can't remember exactly what I ordered, but I remember thinking the ingredients weren't fresh, the flavors were bland and underwhelming and servings were small. I don't think it's worth the trip north unless you are doing something else besides going there to eat. I would put it below Spices Thai Cafe in Carmel Valley and Taste of Thai in Del Mar and Hillcrest.
A spreadsheet of Thai Restaurants? And I thought I was "hardcore"!
Here's my .02 on the restaurants you mention.
Di-Chan - The food was very sweet, and as with many Thai restaurants in San Diego, the restaurant was very chintzy with many of the key ingredients. (i.e. the Spicy Basil Fried Rice had 3 leaves of thai basil in it).
Taste of Thai(Hillcrest): All the people at work are ga-ga over the Americanized, dumbed-down food. I've only been to the Hillcrest location, but can tell you this, I only go when forced by the people from work. In what I thought was kind of interesting little conversation.... A few years back, we went, and the Server was going on and on about an authentic Thai dish, that only the Taste of Thai serves in the US - in the typical Taste of Thai way, it is called "Leaf Wrapped Savories". So I told Him: "Unique, no way, it's called Miang Kam, and I had it at Typhoon in Seattle last year!!!" Oh, BTW, instead of little tasty items like dried shredded shrimp, it had shredded carrots and bean sprouts. You know, even if the food is Americanized, if they did it well, I'd still enjoy it.
Flavor Thai - I think this speaks for the restaurant. I think the food is pretty good - but the dish they do the best is the Papaya Salad - but ask for it Laotian Style. Get the hint?
Lotus Thai - We went to Lotus Thai in Hillcrest back in '01, and thought the food was flavorless and greasy. But recently, the Missus went to the Downtown location with Her friends and thought the food was rather good. So it's on our list to try again.
Spices Thai - Neighborhood Thai Food. I'm doing a post soon, but they do routine neighborhood Thai Food, and it's fairly decent. But they also suffer from the 2 basil leaves as flavoring syndrome.
Rama Thai - Has the same owner as Celadon, and is more fusion-y(and more $$$). I wish Alex Thao would spend a bit more time at Celadon, and the original Chef, Songsri Thammasuckdi would return. It would still be Thai Chinese, but at least it would be well done. Alex is the Guy I had a nice conversation with years ago(I think daanatat will remember me mentioning it in a post), who told me using authetic ingredients like Thai Eggplant and Jackfruit would be economic disaster for Him in San Diego. After all, it's still a business, right?
Thai Cafe - Is what it is. A resonably priced buffet($6.99 - lunch). It's fast, fried, and inexpensive, and also a nice change from other buffets. I've had menu items from there before, and they have been decent, but not great.
Thai Time - Is a neighborhood Thai Restaurant(so long your neighborhood isn't Thai Town). Many mediocre dishes(almost anything on the you-choose-your-sauce-you-coose-your-meat manu), and some okay dishes, like the typical Fried Fish Penang Curry, stuff.
Bali Thai - Was kind of overpriced, mediocre Thai Food. And from what my friends tell me, very over-priced Indonesian Food. But it's the only show in town.
I thought Amarin Thai was okay, in a "In a town of blind men, the one-eyed man is king" kind of way.
I have two sets of Thai food opinions. One set for LA(Renu Nakorn, Yai Restaurant, Ruen Pair, even Krua Thai which is bargain basement Thai, is better then anything in San Diego) including Lotus of Siam. And another set of expectations for San Diego, like No frozen peas and carrots in my food (ala Thai House), and more then 3 thai basil leaves in my Thai Basil Dish. But I'll keep on chugging along.....
Kirk, though you claim not to have a spreadsheet set out, your knowledge of local chow is encyclopedic. I will email you the sheet; you will see that the best comments on it are yours.
I would love to see a post on your blog about Bali; is the Indonesian stuff okay, even if it is too expensive?
A visit to Lotus seems to be in our future; my wife still love a plate of Pad Thai with a side of fresh spring rolls.
Let us know if ed is right about the fish at Karinya.
When I was in graduate school at USC we used to hit the Thai places on Vermont Ave. Are any of the ones you mentioned on Vermont. I just remmember my law school buddy and I were the only white guys there and I have never been able to get back to that level of authenticity since. Frustrating.
I had dinner at Bangkok West on Clairemont Mesa Blvd (east of the 163) a few weeks back. I'm by no means an expert in thai food quality, but I'd say it's on par with the other thai places in SD. I think they cater more to a business/office lunch crowd than dinner since the restaurant was fairly empty on a weeknight. The menu was the pretty much standard "pick your dish then type of meat (or no meat) and spicyness level". They did have real duck and mock duck as options as well. Oh, if I remember correctly, they don't have beef as a meat option.
The SD Reader has coupon for free thai ice tea here:
Lotus Thai seems to be renovating at the moment (as of 11 July 2006) and have been at it for some time.
On another note, we tried Bai Yook last night and the servers were pleasant; the food was only OK. The Tom Kah (Kar) Kai was so-so, but the Massamun was good, the Satay- also so-so.
Ocean Thai has two locations and both seem similar to me flavor-wise.
I've got to get up to the L.A. area and try some of these legendary Thai restaurants I've heard about.
My two favorites on the West coast are Your Place in Santa Barbara on Milpas St [the other Thai place (I forget the name) on lower State Street is just as good too!] and Chillies Paste in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, WA.
I have not been to Karinya for several years. At one time they were one of the best until the owner sold it. She then went on to manage the Taste of Thai in Del Mar off Villa de la Valle (not like the restaurant in Hillcrest of the same name) so this is now where I go. I think the food here is very good, always a crowd, excellent service. We can ask for heat in the 8's and they don't blink or ask if we know how hot this is. Also has the best coconut ice cream anywhere.
The worst Thai I ever had was at Kitima. Nuff said.
A new place has opened up in PB - Lanna Thai Restaurant on Mission Bay Drive which is beginning to show some promise.
Bai Yook has dropped in quality. I heard the cook changed which might be the reason.
Don't care much for any of the other Thai restaurants in Hillcrest.