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Lers Ros Thai - SF - Report

After reading about Lers Ros Thai on chowhound (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/563062), two friends and I gave it a try last night. Overall, I thought it was great, and it may be the best Thai I've had in SF.

The menu is a bit puzzling, and there are language barriers even with the waitresses, who speak pretty good English but couldn't fully answer all of my questions. For example, there is a section of the menu called "Rice Soup" which I thought would be congee or would have rice related dishes - but we ordered the salted egg salad from this section, and it contained no rice at all. Is it supposed to be eaten with rice soup? I was confused. We shared:

#13 - Som Tom Koong Yang - Papaya salad w/ grilled prawns. This came out first, and it was spicy! We were not asked how spicy we wanted our food, and considering we didn't even ask to make it spicy, I thought the heat level was impressive. Like others mentioned, the papaya slices were rather large (almost seemed hand cut), but I thought it tasted very fresh and was seasoned perfectly with a good balance of chili, lime and fish sauce. The grilled shrimp were also soaked in the sauce, and were cooked well. This came garnished with some cabbage, which we ended up eating as it helped cool our mouths. I would definitely order this again.

#4 - Thai Herb Sausage - After hearing about this dish, I knew I wanted it, and I was not disappointed. I really like SE Asian sausages, and I thought this was as good (if not better) than the sausage at Champa Garden in Oakland. The sausage was cooked medium, and served on a bed of lettuce with various condiments (peanuts, chilis, sliced ginger). No dipping sauce, but it was flavorful (lots of lemongrass) without any.

#53 - Kao Kha Moo - Pork leg w/ five spices. We got this a la carte, and it was a large serving of pork - a good portion of both fat and lean meat. This was all piled on a bed of pickled mustard greens and fresh chinese broccoli. This came with a dipping sauce, which I found on the sweet side, but I was impressed with the pork and both veggies. Really good, compares well with the version at Thai House Express - the veggies were certainly better, though the pork at THE is perhaps a bit more to my taste. But it's very close.

unnumbered - Yum Kai Khem - Salted egg salad with fresh lime and chili dressing, from the Rice Soup section. A small was $3.50. The salted eggs were indeed quite salty, but I liked the combination of flavors in this salad, and it went well with the spicier items on the table.

#79 - Rad nah - I don't usually enjoy this dish, but I thought it was great here. The gravy had lots of cornstarch and it was a bit gloopy, but the flavor was excellent. The pieces of pork were tender and tasty, and the noodles had good wok flavor despite being covered in gravy. This was mild and came out last - a nice ending to the meal.

After all the food was on the table, one of the waitresses commented that we had ordered well and had chosen authentic Thai dishes. She asked me how I knew about these foods, and I replied that I read about them and that I hadn't even ever been to Thailand. It seemed like a good number of the diners were Thai though, and we saw some interesting things on other tables. I had a small taste from a neighboring table of the #110, Kaeng Som Cha-Om Khai Tod, which is fried egg and acacia in a tamarind/chili broth - served in a hot pot on the table. The egg and acacia were in omelet-like pieces in the soup - I didn't love the little fried omelets, but I thought the broth was excellent.

It wasn't very crowded on Friday night - I was expecting it to be packed, but it was only 3/4 full at its peak. The menu is overwhelmingly big - last night they had two alligator specials on a board on the wall.

We had two orders of sticky rice (they were small indeed), and the amount of food we had was more than enough for 3 people. Total bill before tip was $38, which I thought was a great deal. I did not think servings were small (as others had commented) but perhaps it depends on what you order? But servings of things like papaya salad and the noodles were pretty typical.

I definitely recommend trying this place, and I'll definitely be back.

Dave MP

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Lers Ros Thai
730 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA

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  1. Whenever I've had Rod Nah/Nar it is gloopy, so I don't order it. But it is great to know that you liked the taste here. I can't wait to go. Do you know if they had grilled or fried sticky rice balls on the menu?

    1. I'm glad you liked it, b/c I'm worried the place doesn't have enough business.

      The rice soup is $1 and is the first item listed in the rice soup section. I have no idea how big the portion is, since I haven't been here for breakfast. Everything listed below is a strongly flavored condiment that can be added to soup, but can also be eaten with rice. That is probably why she didn't ask whether you wanted any rice soup.

      When I was vacationing in Thailand rice soup was a watery rice porridge (AKA jook or congee) that usually showed up at breakfast. By itself, it was pretty bland (mostly water, possibly a little stock or fish sauce for seasoning) and you were supposed to add other stuff to it. I often liked it plain, so I got a lot of weird looks from the Thai cooks ("Are you sure that's a good idea?").

      As for the grilled/fried sticky rice, it is not on the menu. That isn't surprising because they don't seem like Northerners.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sfbing

        Thanks for ID'ing the rice soup section here. When I used to frequent Ozone Thai, that was my favorite part of the menu. Looking forward to sampling LR's.

      2. I ate at Lers Ros again this Friday, again a party of 3. Our meal was good, but I didn't enjoy our selections as much as I did on my first visit. We tried all new things:

        25) Larb Phed Yang - Duck larb - This was excellent. The pieces of duck were flavorful and tender, the dressing on the salad again had a great balance of sweet/savory/spicy. Would definitely order this again.

        9) Koh Moo Yang - Grilled slices of pork shoulder. Advertised as smoky and tasty, these were only OK for me. I didn't think they had a whole lot of flavor, and the meat was a bit tough. They were served with a good dipping sauce though.

        56) Garlic and Ginger rice w/ crispy chicken, served w/ sweet chili sauce. I liked the rice - nice gingery flavor, and quite tasty. I wouldn't mind ordering a side of this to go w/ other dishes in the future. The chicken tasted like the type of chicken fingers you get at greasy east coast chinese restaurants - lots of batter that is sorta sweet and crunchy. Dipping sauce for this I thought was way too sweet.

        80) Sukiyaki - Soup - Advertised as silver noodles w/ vegetable, meat served with or without red seasoned soybean based sauce. Ours apparently did have soybean sauce, since the soup was bright pink. Definitely the pinkest soup I have ever eaten. Not any meat, only seafood (shrimp, fish balls, squid), and vegetables and noodles. I can't decide if I liked the soup. It reminded me of a similar soup that I loved - I actually posted one of my first chowhound posts about it back in 2001, since I was trying to find it. And this is definitely a related recipe. But I think the red bean paste changed the flavor and made me like this less. But if anyone has any hints about how to find the soup I do like, let me know. Perhaps Lers Ros could make it. Here's the 2001 link:

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/141330

        Last, from the rice soup section of the menu, we shared the Yum Pla Khem - fried salted fish w/ fresh lime and chili, and also a bowl of the rice soup (a slightly more liquidy version of congee). The serving of rice soup was generous, we split it into three bowls. The fish was very salty, perhaps a bit too much for me, but I did like it in small bits in the rice soup. So while this dish may not be to my taste, it seemed authentic and well prepared.

        So overall, some hits and misses. Thai Iced tea was good. Service was okay, but they seemed to be rushing us out even though it was quite early and the restaurant was half empty. They brought us our check without even asking us if we wanted dessert (which we maybe did!)

        I will certainly be back though - still so much to discover on the menu, and perhaps next visit I'll go back to favorites from my first two tries.

        Dave MP

        13 Replies
        1. re: Dave MP

          Dave,

          'Sukiyaki' is, of course, a Japanese name and not Thai. I guess they used Japanese for this dish because that word is far more recognizable than the Thai name. The actual Thai name for this pink, mixed seafood soup is pronounced like 'Yen-Taa-Foe.' And in Thai it is spelled "เย็นตาโฟ." It's not commonly offered in stateside Thai restaurants, and when it is offered it is far more commonly served as a 1-person lunchtime meal rather than as part of an evening meal that would be shared by 2 or more people.

          1. re: ThaiNut

            Hmm, interesting.

            I did more research into 'Suki" soup, and it appears that this refers to a type of hot pot dish that is popular in Thailand and Cambodia....this doesn't really match the Yen Taa Foe *or* the Cambodian soup I ate, though it seems there is some common connection because there was a certain flavor in the broth that was shared by the soup at Lers Ros and the Cambodian soup I had a long time ago.

            But the Cambodian soup that was called "Suki Soup" wasn't a do-it-yourself hotpot either, it was an already prepared soup. So I dunno what the answer is.

            Re: the ten taa foe - in Thailand is that generally a 1 person lunch time meal? Or did you just mean that that's how it is in the US?

            1. re: Dave MP

              The pink color of real Thai yen-taa-foe comes from cubes of bottled bean curd that are died pink. This stuff is called Tao-Huu-Yii. I have no idea if stateside Thai restaurants can get, and use, the bottled stuff or whether they just use a little red food coloring.

              If you are familiar with the Thai company that makes packages of dried noodle soups in the 'Mama' brand that are quite popular, one variety they make is a yen-taa-foe and the package has considerable pink coloring. The very top line on the package says "เส้นหมี่กึ่งสำเรจรูปเย็นตาโฟ" which translates to something like 'thin rice noodle yen-taa-foe ready to cook.' I have a package but have not tried it.

              That rice soup dish that you shared that was called Yum Pla Khem ('salt fish salad' is how that translates) is another dish, like the yen-taa-foe, that most stateside Thai restaurants won't put on the menus that are for westerners but they will have them on a special Thai-language menu for Thai customers. Both of those dishes are usually considered too sharp tasting for the western palate. The fish is supposed to be VERY salty and you eat it in very small pieces with the rice soup.

              So it sounds like Lers Ros is putting out some very authentic Thai dishes.

              In Bangkok there are a number of Sukiyaki places but no one considers these to be Thai. The hot pot with the boiling broth is automatic and then you order all the meat, seafood, vegetables and noodles that you want to dump into the broth. I've been to a few such places but can't recall ever seeing a pink broth.

              In Thailand, for lunch Thais will often order a 1-plate dish such as noodle soup, phad thai, or some sort of meat/fish served on top of rice. And that is when most yen-taa-foe gets eaten, as a 1-plate dish as a lunch meal for one person. But in the evening and with family or friends Thais will almost never order any dish just for themselves. Instead, everything is ordered for the whole table and everything gets shared around. Yen-taa-foe just doesn't lend itself to being passed around a table so maybe that's why its much more popular as a lunch meal.

          2. re: Dave MP

            Funny, I think I was there that same Friday. I'm glad to see more reports - I am trying to make my way through the menu as well. Here's my take on a few more of their dishes:

            57) Crispy chicken over fried rice. Basically a chicken thigh battered and fried over fried rice. Served with the orange-ish sweet chili sauce that you can buy in a bottle. This is the kind of dish you would order for little kids if they can't eat spicy. It was fine, but really boring.

            61) Basil leaves with chicken entrails. This dish is just like basil chicken, with chicken meat replaced by chicken entrails. This included heart, gizzard, and what looked like kidney (but seemed large for chicken kidney so perhaps pig kidney?). Delicious! It was spicy and the cooking liquid was flavored by the entrails. I like this dish better than basil chicken.

            69) Native thai style herb and meat noodle soup. This is a very dark soup with tons and tons of herb and meat flavor. This soup is more concentrated than anything I've had at any noodle soup shop. I ate it doctored up with some of the condiments that they brought by. For me, these condiments are essential to the soup. This was a very large serving and there was a lot of anise flavor. This is a complex and interesting soup and it makes me want to try the others.

            113) Quick fried marinated trout with mango sauce. This is definitely a winner. The whole fish is cut in half lengthwise, lightly battered, and fried. The tail, head, and most of the bones were crispy enough to eat, but the flesh was not dry at all. The mango sauce, which sounds horrific, is a actually a lime-chili sauce with green mango.

            There's still more to try!

            1. re: felice

              I agree about #57, pretty uninteresting. But #61 sounds like my kind of dish. I love Gai Gaprow, and I love chicken innards, what a great combo!

              #69 sounds like Boat Noodle soup, is it?

              1. re: DezzerSF

                I was hoping #69 was boat noodle soup (like I had at the floating market near Bangkok). I remember boat noodle soup broth to be on the lighter side, more like pho broth. When it arrived, #69 was very dark and intense - as dark or darker than duck noodle soup broth. Perhaps boat noodle soup is different depending on which boat you're on, but in a blind tasting I would not identify #69 as boat noodle soup.

                1. re: felice

                  The version of Boat Noodle Soup I had was also very dark, fairly intense, with soy & anise notes, and it's traditionally thickened with blood. What type of meat cuts were in the soup?

                  Here's a link to a Boat Noodle thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/386800

                  1. re: DezzerSF

                    Thanks for the link! It sounds like boat noodle soup, although I don't think theirs was thickened with blood (although if the effect is very subtle I may not have recognized it). This one had skirt steak and beef balls.

                    1. re: felice

                      This is definitely boat noodle soup as I know it. There are two main schools- light and dark- as I have experienced it in the states, but the commonality is in the herbs that are used to make up the broth and the use of blood. I am not totally sure what the difference is between the light and dark is... it's possible that some of the light versions don't have any blood, but at the same time I am pretty sure that many of the light versions do have blood, e.g. King of Thai Noodle. The dark versions do have blood and it typically manifests as a dark cloudiness or suspension that does have a tendency to settle if left undisturbed. I have never had a version locally where the blood is a dominant flavor, as with cubed pork or duck blood cakes, or in dinuguan. It always provides a base flavor that is not markedly metallic or "bloody," like in the milder versions of blood sausage.

                      I liked Lers Ros' #69 noodle very much, but still prefer Ruen Pair's and Thai Noodle (Berkeley) at the moment. The most bloody versions I've had have been Boat Noodle House (Berkeley) and Champa Garden (Oakland), but they're not my favorites.

                      The fried sun-dried beef jerky (Nuer Tod) here was one of the better versions I've had made with the sun-dried beef. Distinctly preferred this to Chai Thai Noodles' version, which I have had recently. I think it is also better than Thai House Express' Nuer Kem (fried marinated beef jerky).

                      Som Tum ordered spicy was reasonably so, similar to Ruen Pair Medium Spicy, more so than THE's spicy.

                      1. re: twocents

                        Have you tried the boat noodle soup at DeDe Noodles in Richmond?

              2. re: felice

                Just had #61 on your rec. Tasty! FYI the bigger pieces are chicken liver which were strangely not that livery.

                I might not order it again, but #110 was ...interesting. The acacia made the egg omelets taste very woodsy and healthy. I thought the broth was a little too sweet, though.

                The fish cakes (#4) were tender with little shreds of kaffir lime leaves. Very good.

                1. re: sfbing

                  I think they might soak the livers in milk or cream, as I've had unlivery liver before as well.

                2. re: felice

                  This dish has impressed me too!

                  113) Quick fried marinated trout with mango sauce. This is definitely a winner. The whole fish is cut in half lengthwise, lightly battered, and fried. The tail, head, and most of the bones were crispy enough to eat, but the flesh was not dry at all. The mango sauce, which sounds horrific, is a actually a lime-chili sauce with green mango.

              3. Love, love love this place. OMG. Love it. Thai isn't boring anymore.

                Went with a group of five, which made the ginormous menu less daunting since we got to sample and explore more of the variety. Here was our meal:
                1) Fried Tofu - excellent - Did not expect much, but this was a star. Who knew tofu could be interesting? I only wish they'd pair this with another sauce.
                4) Thai Herb Sausage - very interesting - I agree with the others, this is a hit.
                29) Pho Tak - spicy and sour soup with assorted seafood - very good, I like this style soup. Clean bright flavors, done well. Maybe too familiar. This place is all about different, and this was... familiar.
                83) Pra Ram Kai - spiced chicken with spinach and peanut sauce. I had low expectations, but this peanut sauce was rich with coconut milk and it all worked well together.
                Speical) Soft Shelled Crab - deep fried, this dish was much better when it landed on the table piping hot than it did by the time it cooled down.
                37) Kang Phed Nang - red curry with roasted duck - good, complex, flavorful curry, but not the best format for duck. I found myself picking the juicy, meating pieces of duck out of the curry to savor on their own, and enjoying the curry over rice.
                113) Pla Trout Tod Nam Pla - fried, quick marinated trout. I agree with the others here, this was a hit. I served my friends the bigger pieces of fish so I could gooble up the skin, the small bones, the tail, the cheeks -- I worked this dish over. Great chili sauce.

                1. This is the best Thai food I've had. Better than Thai House Express, Chai Thai in Oakland, or Jitlada in LA. (I haven't been to Thailand.)

                  Two of us shared:

                  #9 koh moo yang / grilled slices of pork shoulder ($7.25). I think this is the same dish as Chai Thai's pork neck. Similar but better, nice smokiness, great dipping sauce with black pepper and rice powder.

                  #110 kaeng som cha-om khai tod / "fried egg with acacia in house-made tamarind & chili broth" ($15.95). This soup comes to the table in a covered miniature hot pot over an alcohol burner. Acacia leaves are made into a sort of omelet, which is cut into pieces and added to the soup.

                  #113 plat trout tod nam pla / fried whole trout ($12.95). Perfectly fried trout with a great dry rub including I'm pretty sure Sichuan pepper, moist inside, so crispy outside you could crunch the bones and fins. Nice subtle dipping sauce.

                  From the specials menu, variation on #3, fish cake in chile sauce with preserved bamboo shoots ($7.95?). Housemade fish cakes have a great texture and subtle flavor. I think the bamboo shoots are the same preparation as at Thai House Express, but they had only a hint of that funky aroma.

                  I'd order any of these again except the acacia dish, and it's definitely worth trying.

                  The chalkboard special I didn't notice until too late was pork livers with chile sauce ($7.95).

                  I was particularly impressed the chile sauces that came with three of the dishes each had completely different seasonings. The server warned us that the soup was spicy, but none of the dishes came close to exceeding my capsicum comfort zone.

                  I'm returning soon and often to explore more of the menu. Beer, wine, Smirnoff Ice, and sake, no hard liquor. Menu says free delivery with $15 minimum order. Open till 2am every day!

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I think Lers Ros is the best Thai in the Bay Area right now, but the seasoning at Jitlada is much more sophisticated. (At least, if you ask them to cook it like they would eat at home.) Loved the wild curry with sator beans and the chicken soup with fresh turmeric so much that I would fly down just to eat there.

                    I love the menu at Lers Ros, but I do think Lers Ros needs to turn up the heat a notch or two for us non-Thai customers. BTW, I saw a Thai dude ordering the tom yum (which I had assumed to be boring) and it looked and smelled VERY good.

                    1. re: sfbing

                      Jitlada has a more exotically stocked pantry, that's for sure.

                      Further research is required, but tentatively I think Lers Ros's food is more sophisticated. The cooking is precise and subtle. I had the trout a second time and it was just as perfect.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Jitlada's online menu looks pretty tame and westernized, are the in-restaurant specials more exotic?

                        We've never been, but have heard that a friend of a friend who is the son of a famous Thai general swears by Jitlada, but I'm guessing he also gets to order "off menu." Obviously not nearly specific information for me to have posted about it...but you and sfbing have me curious now.

                        1. re: SteveG

                          The Jitlada in Los Angeles has several pages in the back that are very unWesternized. The following chowhound post has a link with a preview:
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/414265

                          When we went several months ago, we told them we wanted it "cooked like you eat at home." They took us at our word, and the food was incredibly complex and spicy. It is well worth a trip to LA (along with a visit to Ondal2, for spicy korean crab stew). You should also check out what Erik M. reports re: Jitlada.

                          I highly recommend any of the wild curries and we loved the chicken soup with turmeric and lime leaves (the chicken was just cooked and you could tell that it was very very fresh).

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            If only Jitlada were here, it would make it so much easier to compare!

                            1. re: sfbing

                              Erm...there is a Jitlada in San Francisco, that's the one we've had a friend recommend, but we've been too dubious to go. Anyone been to the one up here? The one in LA doesn't have a web site, so I assume they're different owners.

                              http://www.jitladasf.com/site/index.php

                              I do see banana blossom salad, which is one of my favorites and seen too rarely in the bay area.

                              1. re: SteveG

                                i went a few months ago.

                                with the caveat that i haven't been to the new thai places (sai jai, ler ros, and i forget the other one), but had been a thai house express regular, i thought a few of the dishes at jitlada were the closest of anything in sf to those i had in thailand for several weeks last august. the curries especially, with a complex flavor and the coconut cream garnish. was it amazing? no, but it was very good and i would definitely go back and get another green curry. it tasted and looked "right." also, lemongrass tea, which was also evocative of thailand.

                                otoh, the salmon dish (not my choice) was not good. it was a piece of salmon with spaghetti with peanut sauce. ick.

                                1. re: SteveG

                                  Link and commentary on an eight year old Chronicle review by some familiar Chowhounds.
                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/17567

                                  -----
                                  Jitlada Thai Cuisine
                                  1826 Buchanan St, San Francisco, CA 94115

                                  1. re: wolfe

                                    FWIW a November 2007 meal at Jitlada eaten by two tourists and a local:

                                    After a quick restorative at the hotel, it was time to head over to Jitlada (1826 Buchanan btwn Sutter and Bush) where we had a 7:30 reso. This was a good thing as it was very busy. We met my brother-in-law there (he lives in the Mission) which was also excellent as a) we haven’t seen him in a while and b) we could order more food! We decided to go for Chef Pai’s specialties and ordered the shrimp ginger rolls, the wonton like appetizer offering, the mango salad, the special noodles with black bean, the sea bass and the pumpkin curry with chicken. They were all excellent, with the standouts being the mango salad, noodles and the sea bass. I am somewhat wary of “fusion” approaches but the chef here knows how to mix in different ingredients to complement the more traditional Thai elements and make it all sing. Case in point: dried cranberries in the mango salad. Sounds whacky, tastes awesome. Our bill came to about $90 including a couple of beers so it was also great value. We strolled up and down nearby Fillmore Street to end a great day.

                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      $90 for three seems expensive for Thai food.

                                      Again, the Jitlada I compared with Lers Ros is in Los Angeles and worth a trip there.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        To merge your two points - the last time i was at jitlada in LA i think we paid about that much for dinner for 7. and we couldnt even finish everything. It was almost so cheap i felt like we were in bangkok.

                                        1. re: tex.s.toast

                                          Hi Robert:

                                          I was responding to wolfe's post about the SF Jitlada, which BTW was reasonable compared to similar level of Thai in Vancouver with beers included. The best Thai I've had was in Toronto but my frame of reference is pretty limited as I've never been to Thailand, and I haven't dined in LA since I was too young to know what I was eating...

                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                            We had an excellent meal at Lers Ros, definitely had the sense it was going to be our favorite in SF, but wanted to return when we were in less of a hurry before posting. A note on Thai House Express, the one in the Castro has taken most of my favorite dishes off the menu and won't even serve them on request anymore. I'm especially frustrated by the loss of the funky fermented bamboo salad, which while I can't imagine was terribly popular, shouldn't have involved food spoilage losses in the kitchen, since I think it was from a canned product anyway like Burmese tea leaf salad.

                            1. re: SteveG

                              Is the fermented bamboo shoot the same as what you can buy at Ranch 99? Or is it somehow funkier? I ask because I eat those things out of the can like a snack.

                              1. re: DezzerSF

                                It's not the canned bamboo shoot you find in Chinese markets.

                                1. re: DezzerSF

                                  It was very funky...fermented bamboo is eaten in various parts of asia, in different forms depending on location. Now I'm curious if I can find fermented bamboo at any thai groceries around town...

                                  1. re: SteveG

                                    If you are talking about sour bamboo shoot, they definitely stock theThai version at Hwa Lei in Mission, and I've bought the Chinese version at one of the little markets on Irving (around 21 or 22nd).