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Jun 2, 2005 01:01 AM

Best Thai in Berkeley/Oakland?

  • m

What's your favorite Thai place in the Berkeley/Oakland area? Looking for a place that has really good pork or beef salad.

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  1. m
    Mick Ruthven

    This isn't news because "everyone" knows about Plearn (2050 University Ave, Berkeley, 510-841-2148), but I've loved it for many years and consider its beef salad maybe the best I've ever had.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Mick Ruthven

      IMO Plearn was amazing many years ago, but it has slipped drastically. We had a meal there a few years ago that was downright terrible: gloppy sauces, overly sweet, totally out of balance. I feel the same way about most dishes at Cha Am, which was Plearn's successor for a while, although, again IMO, the Berkeley location is better than the one in SF.

      Sorry I can't give a strong rec, as I haven't had destination Thai food on that side of the bay in a while, but Ruen Pair's on my list to try.

      1. re: bernalgirl
        Melanie Wong

        Ruen Pair in Albany is my favorite of the places I've tried so far in the East Bay. Thai-Chinese dishes are a specialty, and it has some things not available elsewhere in these parts.

        I've had but one visit to Vientian Cafe in Oakland, but I can't wait to go back. The nam kao was way better than the nam sod (made with plain ground pork instead of sausage) at Ruen Pair. I liked it as much as the version at Thai Nakorn, an excellent Issan restaurant in Orange County. Vientian's was not quite the caliber of LV's Lotus of Siam, just because LoS has a magical way of frying the rice.

        I like the Lao/Issan way of making beef salad. That's what I want to order next at Vientian. Maybe the OP will beat me to it.


        1. re: Melanie Wong

          One thing that people should know about Vientian is that it's in the middle of what some might find to be a rough neighborhood. It didn't put me off but freaked out some of my companions when a young guy walked up next to us on the street and started flashing gang signals at a passing car. The car's occupants, of a different ethnicity, eyeballed him and started flashing back their signals.

          But back to the chow, yes the nam sod is fabulous and I'd order it again. It's been over a year since I've been to Nakorn in Norwalk so I can't make any comparison. The Lao style green papaya salad seemed more pungent than the usual Thai version and the dressing was much darker than I've been accustomed to. No dried shrimp or peanuts.

          I couldn't find a jungle curry on the menu but my dining companions were pressing for boring old Thai standards anyways. We had a daily special seafood claypot that was over half rice on the bottom. Tasty from soaking up the cooking juices, but a poor value.

          If I were to return, I'd try the stir fried dishes to see how they stack up to Ruen Pair.

          Oh, and sticky rice is the way to go for northern Thai and Lao eating. Make a little ball of rice and then roll it in the food.

          1. re: Pork Butt

            Thanks for this great tip! My eyes happily popped open when I read your posts on Vientian...the school where I teach is in that neighborhood, and the teachers at our school have been dying for new food options.

            I dragged my friend there last night. The nam kao was excellent, as recommended. I tried it with the dried red chilies, and they gave the dish an extra dash of pungency. My friend had the pad-see-ew, which he liked for its unusual tanginess. We shared a fried banana with coconut ice cream for dessert. The banana wasn't as ripe as I would have liked, but the batter was light and fresh.

            I kept my eyes and ears open for what the locals were eating. Many ordered the Lao rice flour soup with pigs blood. Several people who came in for take-out also bought the big round rice cakes at the counter. Are these meant to be eaten plain as snacks?

            1. re: Lillian Hsu
              Melanie Wong

              Good to hear from the two of you on your good eating here and of more to come.

              Don't know about the rice cakes. The evening I was there, a few other things were for sale at the counter. Some duck eggs, dried jerky, etc.

              1. re: Lillian Hsu

                I didn't see any rice cakes on the counter on that night, but there was a plate of what might have been some kind of sausage cut into thick horse ear slices. I don't know if it was sour sausage because it was fairly big and that greyish brown of cooked pork, not the cured pink color that sour sausage usually has.

                New Lucky House in Berkeley is closer to me and I'll probably do my next Lao exploration there.

      2. My favorite Thai in the Bay Area is Ruen Pair, but it's in Albany albeit just a few hundred yards from the Berkeley border.

        Other favs in just Oakland or Berkeley include:

        --Cha Am (but only for the tom kha gai soup, Cha Am noodles, and cashew nut chicken)
        --Tuk Tuk Thai (cheaper than the other places; good green curry noodles)
        --Soi4 (more upscale and pricier)
        --Berkeley Thai House (good basil beef; beware - one of their chicken specials is terrible)
        --Saysetha (pretty cheap; above average but not amazing)
        --Sabuy Sabuy (good basil rice with chicken)

        I used to really love Nakapan in Berkeley, but the food quality has really gone downhill.


        4 Replies
        1. re: katya

          I, too, loved Nakapan many, many years ago.

          My favorite Thai restaurant in Berkeley is Siam Cuisine on University, just east of San Pablo. I don't know about beef or pork salad, but I had a roast duck salad there that was amazing. I also recommend their addictive fried sweet potato appetizer and the Penang beef, which is the best rendition I've had.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            is Nakapan even still open? I thought that I noticed they looked shuttered when I drove by there last - a few weeks ago.

            1. re: gordon Wing

              They've looked almost closed ever since I first went there in 1995, and I once received a report once from a friend that they were closed but I continued to eat there for a few more years. I no longer live in the East Bay, but wouldn't be surprised if they were closed. The place was always really empty - which was pretty sad in the early days when I thought it was one of the best Thai restaurants around.

              1. re: katya

                I just called Nakapan and got a recording. Their number is disconnected.
                It was a pretty long run by today's standards.

        2. Your Place Restaurant on University Ave, run by the same people who start TukTuk. My favorite (not in menu) includes Thai Omelet with Pork and Smoke Beef with Chili Fish Sauce. They eating them with Sticky Rice served in Basket. In Ching Mai (a place in Thailand), you would eat with your hand. Make a ball of sticky rice, dip into the hot sauce and eat it with a piece of omelet or beef. Thai-style BBQ Half Chicken with Bone. Pad Thai is extremely good here. FYI, Thais frequent this place, so it must be good.

          1. If you're willing to schlep a few blocks further north, Sawooei in El Cerrito is my own favorite. It's the place elevated above the motel parking lot, across San Pablo from the Safeway/Rite Aid center. Small room, kid-friendly staff. Here again, spicy means hot! Mostly, I get chicken dishes here.

            1. Siam Bay, next to Le Cheval ("popular" vietamese restaurant) in Oakland (near Old Oakland) is my favorite for Thai. Sometimes busy, sometimes not (no pattern) but always had good food.

              I have poor memory, but in my Palm Pilot pda, for my address book entry for Siam Bay, I have "Beef Larb" (aka beef salad) listed with five stars next to it. That means it was really good!! Also, I do remember the other thing I have listed "Red Curry Roasted Duck - *****!!!!" This dish comes in a small clay pot, and is the most amazing curry I've ever had. If this dish hadn't of come last, I would have eaten all the rice with the tender duck and very tasty curry sauce and had no room for anything else.

              Like many other good places, "Spicy" is very hot. Expect to sweat and need many refills of water unless you are used to very spicy stuff. No need to suffer through dinner, or embarrass yourself, so ordering mild is your best bet. Otherwise, their coconut milk is a nice spiciness-soother.

              Prices are reasonable. $40 for two the last time I went, and that got us very very full. If its busy when you go, then you might have to sit and wait and chat for long periods before your order is taken and before you get your food, but that's because they seem to be short-staffed when the restaurant is full (maybe they can't find a pattern to the high-traffic either?).

              Siam Bay
              1009 Clay St
              Oakland CA 94607