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Pad Thai shootout.

knifesavers Sep 3, 2011 12:58 PM

I first had Pad Thai at Kings Oriental Express on Mission Gorge years ago. It was and still is great and every other Thai restaurant fell short of that benchmark.

Others were too sweet, too sour, or looked like something else entirely. So when eating Thai food elsewhere I always order something else to avoid the letdown. My wife will not even risk it.

The other day I braved getting the Pad Thai at Sab-E-Lee and they are the only place that was close to what Kings has. Nice balanced complex sauce, limes to squeeze onto it, and thin noodles. My picky wife agreed this was the only one in the ballpark of Kings.

Fans of Sab-E-Lee's Pad Thai may want to put Kings on your list of places to check out. They are open Mondays and take CCs.

Now that said, all the Pad Thai fans what places measure up to those?


2405 Ulric Street, San Diego, CA 92111

King Oriental Express
6171 Mission Gorge Rd, San Diego, CA 92120

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  1. s
    sandiegomike RE: knifesavers Sep 4, 2011 03:48 PM

    Saffron, located at 3731 India Street near Washington, serves not only outstanding Pad Thai but probably the best Thai food you will get in San Diego.

    8 Replies
    1. re: sandiegomike
      Josh RE: sandiegomike Sep 4, 2011 04:06 PM

      Um, no. Probably not.

      1. re: Josh
        evanmc RE: Josh Oct 3, 2011 12:10 PM

        Agreed. Probably the worst Thai food in San Diego actually.

        1. re: evanmc
          scottca075 RE: evanmc Oct 3, 2011 03:49 PM

          Um, no.

      2. re: sandiegomike
        jmtreg RE: sandiegomike Sep 6, 2011 11:43 AM

        Um. . .I love Saffron, and I've eaten there many, many times (its just a walk down the hill from me), but even I have to admit you're way, way off in your estimation of Saffron's food.

        1. re: jmtreg
          Josh RE: jmtreg Sep 6, 2011 06:27 PM

          I've had meals at Saffron I've enjoyed, though, sadly, it's been probably a couple of years since then. The few times I've been recently have been really disappointing. Sab E Lee kills them.

          1. re: Josh
            daantaat RE: Josh Sep 6, 2011 09:38 PM

            +3 on Saffron. The last several times have been "off." The stir fried veggies tasted like soap for reasons unknown to us. The dirty rice was still ok.

            1. re: daantaat
              pantani RE: daantaat Sep 7, 2011 02:37 PM

              I have never really been disappointed with Saffron.
              I wish they had Thai Basil in some of their dishes because that is one my favorite flavors in Thai cooking.
              I love the Cambodian salad which is like a Thai cabbage slaw.
              The noodle soup which seems to be a cross between Thai and Vietnamese Pho is also good. It seems people either like or hate this place.
              I do like that their menu is somewhat different than most Thai places which all have exactly the same menu items.

            2. re: Josh
              SaltyRaisins RE: Josh Sep 7, 2011 07:25 PM

              I enjoy both Sab-E-Lee and Saffron. They are different. To me, Saffron tastes homemade, and thanks to the boss lady who is tirelessly involved with her business, she and her impeccably trained staff goes out of their way to pay attention to each order. If the final result is occasionally lackluster, it never lacks for nice al dente fresh veggies, just-cooked temperatures, quality ingredients and consistent reliability.

              Sab-E-Lee is great, too. Knockout strong flavors, very rich, nicely done everything. Not as good as it was in the beginning, unlike Saffron which keeps evolving. In fact, Saffron's pad thai is now served inside a thin, crepe-like omelette. Very good.

              One other thing that makes a comparison difficult- having made many visits into the kitchen at Sab-E-Lee, I can say with 100% certainty that a lot of their over-the-top flavors come from very very very liberal use of MSG. I mean, like, two heaping teaspoons in each order of pad-thai. Personally, I have no problem with that, but appreciate that Saffron uses none.

              I agree that sdmike's statement is a bit sweeping, but in the class of Thai-inspired cooking, he is absolutely correct.

        2. n
          Nehlerssd RE: knifesavers Sep 4, 2011 04:59 PM

          Pad Thai is one of my favorite Thai dishes. It's been how I measure e new Thai restaurant. To date my favorite places have been Saffron and Bangkok West. I just tried Koon Thai Kitchen on Convoy in Kearney Mesa and thought it was the best! I even took my friends a second time to get consensus on! They agreed.

          Koon Thai Kitchen
          3860 Convoy St #102
          San Diego, CA 92111

          1 Reply
          1. re: Nehlerssd
            knifesavers RE: Nehlerssd Sep 7, 2011 07:02 AM

            Gotta agree there that the restaurants Pad Thai is the benchmark on the place.
            However there was a different owner of a Thai/Vietnamese place nearby and while the pad thai was not up to par they had a spicy basil dish and a soup that were great.


          2. p
            pickypicky RE: knifesavers Sep 5, 2011 11:01 AM

            Funny you mentioned this. We have started to frequent Lanna (next to Sushi Ota) mainly because it's close to where we live, has a pleasant interior, and is reasonably delicious. However, their Pad Thai is the one dish I do not like and will never order again-- and Pad Thai is one of my favorite comfort foods. It seemed hastily prepared with no love. So is Pad Thai a dish that everybody orders that is more americanized than Thai at this point? Just asking.

            Lanna Thai Cuisine
            4501 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

            1 Reply
            1. re: pickypicky
              knifesavers RE: pickypicky Sep 7, 2011 07:05 AM

              I do wonder if the others are far removed from Thailand. Then again Pad Thai in Thailand might be like spaghetti here where everyone has their take but aside from noodles the sauces are infinite.


            2. k
              karaethon RE: knifesavers Sep 6, 2011 10:29 PM

              So first of all, a shootout of just 2 places in more just like a "duel"

              On the topic of Pad Thai, I'm going to say Sab E Lee is my place, but a restaurant I've been visiting more frequently (meaning twice in the last 6 months vs the 1 of Sab E Lee) is Siam Nara in Mira Mesa. Both of my experiences there have been on the more positive side, but I haven't been able to try enough of their dishes to give a good recommendation on their food yet.

              I did order Spicy Noodle Fry thing one time where the noodles were overcooked, so that doesn't necessarily bode well for the Pad Thai, but if this place is more convenient location-wise for you (than the other 2) it's probably worth a shot.

              2 Replies
              1. re: karaethon
                knifesavers RE: karaethon Sep 7, 2011 07:09 AM

                Very true but hoping to get input from folks that compares another places P/T to SEL or Kings as on their level or better.

                SEL is walking distance so nowhere is more convenient but I do travel around the county a bit and if I crave PT alternatives of high standards are a good thing. :)


                1. re: karaethon
                  oerdin RE: karaethon Oct 3, 2011 02:11 AM

                  I've been to Siam Nara twice and have mixed feelings about the place. The food tasted very good on the two occasions (both times with a group so we tried about four different dishes each time), their decor is very nice and the presentation of their food was a step above most other Thai places in San Diego, but on both of my visits I thought the food was under spiced. I admit I am a huge fan of spices and one of the things I loved about Thai food when I spent three months vacationing there was the amount and balance of the spices used. Even tiny little restaurants in no name towns featured not just more spice but a great balance of spices; sadly, American customers don't seem to appreciate that level of flavor so Thai restaurants here tone it down so as not to scare off Americans. Siam Nara falls into that category.

                  Sab E Lee was the only Thai place I knew in San Diego which would deliver that authentic punch of Thai flavor but even they've started to tone things down especially since they moved out to Santee. Sab E Lee might no have the pretty decor and it might not be completely "fresh of the boat" authentic any more but it's still the restaurant to beat in my book.

                  Edit: One thing I should note is Siam Nara is offering specials through Oct 5th to celebrate their one year anniversary. That might be a good way for some of our local hounds to try the place and report back with their own opinions.

                2. r
                  RB Hound RE: knifesavers Sep 7, 2011 03:14 PM

                  The title of this thread sounds like a Traffic song (and/or album) title.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: RB Hound
                    Fake Name RE: RB Hound Sep 7, 2011 05:35 PM

                    Think Thai Paper Sun?

                    1. re: Fake Name
                      Tripeler RE: Fake Name Sep 7, 2011 06:21 PM

                      Funny, I keep thinking of Thai Pads -- some sort of new electronic device.

                  2. s
                    sdrey RE: knifesavers Sep 10, 2011 11:11 AM

                    Sab-E-Lee's Pad Thai is good but I prefer Thai House's version more. Lanna Thai's food overall is unremarkable but serviceable. I've never been a fan of Saffron. People always tell me how great it is and I have to disagree. Never heard of King Oriental Express, so I'll have to give it a try, but it contains three words I usually avoid in choosing any eatery: "Kings" "Oriental" and "Express." LOL

                    King Oriental Express
                    6171 Mission Gorge Rd, San Diego, CA 92120

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: sdrey
                      Josh RE: sdrey Sep 10, 2011 04:57 PM

                      Alchemy in South Park makes a very tasty Pad Thai w/ black garlic.

                    2. scottca075 RE: knifesavers Oct 2, 2011 12:03 PM

                      I had lunch at Sab-e-lee last week and found the Pad Thai pretty disappointing after all the build up here, my noodles were a little over done. I do like Saffron-Chicken Pad Thai better.

                      I also ordered Pad Woon Sen though from Sab-e-lee and it was amazing. I'll check out King Oriental, Lanna Thai and Siam Nara Thai next.

                      3731 India St, San Diego, CA 92103

                      2405 Ulric Street, San Diego, CA 92111

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: scottca075
                        Beach Chick RE: scottca075 Oct 3, 2011 09:39 AM

                        If your in Vegas, had the best Pad Thai with Tofu in my life at Lotus of Siam..

                        1. re: Beach Chick
                          honkman RE: Beach Chick Oct 3, 2011 09:49 AM

                          LOS is always a must stop in LV. Best Thai for us anywhere so far, wish we had them in SD.

                          1. re: honkman
                            Beach Chick RE: honkman Oct 4, 2011 07:18 AM

                            I'm so jonesing for LOS that I'm thinking of a road trip and load up..
                            Does Thai food freeze well?
                            ; )

                        2. re: scottca075
                          oerdin RE: scottca075 Oct 4, 2011 11:30 AM

                          Did you go to the original Sab E Lee or did you go to the one in Santee. In my experience the original location is more authentic (I guess there are more Thais in Linda Vista) than the one in Santee.

                          1. re: oerdin
                            scottca075 RE: oerdin Oct 5, 2011 07:17 PM

                            I went to the Sab-e-lee in Linda Vista.

                            2405 Ulric Street, San Diego, CA 92111

                        3. ChowBaccus RE: knifesavers Oct 5, 2011 10:11 PM

                          Try Supannee House of Thai in Point Loma....you won't be disappointed!

                          Supannee House of Thai
                          2907 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106

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