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Sep 3, 2011 12:58 PM

Pad Thai shootout.

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. 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: Josh

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

      2. re: sandiegomike

        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

          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

            +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

              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

              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. 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

            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. 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

              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. 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

                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

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

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: Fake Name

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