I guess I'm not sure what "light and fresh" means - I thought that was more or less what many Thai dishes end up being.
I'd probably need somebody with a very sophisticated palate with respect to Thai food to tell me what really is good, but with that in mind...
I've found the "Spices Thai Cafe" restaurants (Del Mar, Mira Mesa, Rancho Bernardo) to be pretty good - the RB restaurant is the most convenient Thai restaurant for us to visit, so we go often.
I have visited "Flavor Thai" on Convoy a few times, and thought it was pretty good - a little better than I expected, since I've never head any buzz about it. When I lived in the La Jolla - UTC area, I often visited the Thai Cafe buffet in Clairemont. Buffets are buffets, so you can't expect anything spectacular, but I never left unsatisfied. They have a menu as well, though I never ordered off it.
I have eaten at Celadon Thai in Hillcrest a few times, and I thought it seemed a step above everything else I have tried. They have a sister restaurant called "Rama" in the Gaslamp District, and a lot of people have stated that it is even better (though there have been a few not-so-glowing reviews).
My best recommendation is to focus on places closest to where you live, and places you tend to visit. After you come up with a base line, you then can ask for comparisons. If you end up thinking a lot of the reviewed places are not so good, then perhaps a good number of us aren't discriminating enough, and we'll have to call out for experts. :-)
re: Brian Saunders
Brian - I enjoyed your post. I hesitated in posting, mainly because, I wasn't quite sure what the "light and fresh" was as well. The basic belief is that to quote several people, "there is no good Thai Food in San Diego". Flavor Thai and Di Chan on Clairemont Mesa Blvd to be decent. Thai House on Convoy had been rapidly going downhill at the point we stopped eating there 2 years ago - some of the dishes had changed so much we asked them if they changed chefs, so maybe we need to try again. Celadon is our favorite, and I once had a discussion with Alex - the owner of Celadon, and now Rama - with regards to several dishes that I had enjoyed in Los Angeles and at Lotus of Siam in Vegas and he said that he couldn't put those dishes on the menu; to quote "it would be economic suicide". I also enjoy Bai Yook and Amarin in Hillcrest. I personally think that Taste of Thai in Hillcrest is terrible, even their supposedly "authentic" version of Miang Kum is not very good. Thai Cafe is a pretty good buffet - and I've ordered the Pad Woon Sen there as take out and it was decent. I'll give Spices a try soon, though a bit out of the way. A friend of mine also recommended Siamese Basil in Encinitas. Most Thai restaurants in San Diego have the usual pick your sauce, pick your meat type of dishes.
Spices is "ok," for Thai food. I think they tend to Americanize their food. Their tom kha gai lacks balance between the spicy, sour and coconut milk. If you ask for "spicy," they will ramp up the heat but then they don't balance it out with any other flavors.
I think Taste of Thai is just a step up from Spices. Maybe on the same level, in some ways.
I tend to think there isn't really any great Thai in SD, although we need to try Siamese Basil and Thai Cafe.
It's really sad when restaraunt owners say they "can't" put authentic ethnic food on their menus b/c it would be "suicide." Maybe if the bar was raised for Thai food it would increase their business?? Set them apart from the rest of the Thai places around? What a concept!
I tend to agree and disagree with your statement. There has to be enough inital support for any type of these restaurants from within the Ethnic community - Quickly, how many Thai Markets are there in San Diego? The only one I go to is United Food Mart! How many Chinese Markets, how many Vietnamese Markets? A great many, huh? When you go to a place like Sakura, what percentage of customers are Japanese Nationals? A place like Ba Ren has support of the Mainland Chinese community, Buga, ditto for the Korean Community. Have you been to Asian Cafe? It's a Laotian Cafe off of Market St, in a pretty scary part of town. These are the neighborhoods where restaurants that will cater to the "ethnic market" will be initially. Restauranteurs who open in Hillcrest, Downtown, and in most places, have to make a living, and so will Westernize, and do the "sauces with a choice of meat" thing, and they do it pretty well. Give Alex some credit, instead of giving me B.S., he was very frank and honest. And I think Celadon is pretty good. Don't get your expectations up for Thai Cafe - it's just a pretty good buffet, well worth the price you pay $7.99, you can barely get an order of Pad Thai in most places at that price.
BTW, United Food Mart has a Hot Table now, so I'll try it soon, it seemed to be pretty popular! There seems to be a "trickle-down" from Los Angeles with regards to Asian Restaurants, there are just a few "good" Thai in LA - Renu Nakorn comes to mind - but one can always hope! Sorry to be so wordy.....
where is United Food Market? and the same for Asian Cafe?
I agree, for non-Americanized places to get going, the word needs to spread within the Asian communities. However, there is also a consistent attitude from first generation Asians that Westerners won't like the "real stuff." Part of this is based in reality (some Westerners don't "get it") but part of this is also based on misperceptions of the immigrant generation. I think Americans, in general, are more open and sophisticated about their food than decades ago. Therefore, having a more authentic menu is more viable than one may think. (I'm thinking of Saladang Song in Pasadena. Granted, LA County has a lot more Asians and foodies than SD....).
United Oriental Food Market
5349 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92115
If you go on the weekend - just went there today, they have a BBQ up front so you can grab BBQ chicken or Pork for a $1.25. I'll blog on soon.
4710 Market Street
Located in Chollas View, great larb - scary strip mall!
This is a complex issue and one that I think about a lot, because I love ethnic food. Whenever I discover a new cuisine, Im always eager to learn more about it and try as many things as possible. So the more adventurous and serious food lovers will always be at the front of the curve, but what about the rest of the American public?
I used to think that it was just a question of unfamiliarity. That Thai cuisine was just too new for most Americans, but once they became familiar with the names and tastes of dishes, eventually they would be comfortable enough to venture beyond Pad Thai and try some more adventurous dishes.
Look at Chinese cuisine. We have come a long way from Moo Goo Gai Pan and Chop Suey. We have a wealth of choices available to us now and have learned to differentiate the food from various regions (Szechuan, Hong Kong, Beijing). But that evolution took a long time. And despite the presence of Chinese and Italian immigrants in this country for well over a century, how many really great Chinese or Italian restaurants can you name in San Diego? So, clearly its not just a question of familiarity.
I find that restaurants run by recent immigrants that cater to their own communities often have the most interesting food. But how do you (i.e., the average American) discover these places, especially if you dont speak the language, cant read the menu, dont know what you are eating?
I guess thats where Chowhound comes in, bridging the gap. On one hand, educating our fellow diners (in our random, opinionated, often contradictory way) and, on the other side, helping the restaurants stay in business. We are the ones willing to seek out the unfamiliar, hard-to-find restaurants. We take the time to learn about them and then pass that information on. Id like to think that the more informed we are, the more likely we are to get the type of restaurants we want. (But then, Im an idealist, not a businessperson.)
I think Alex of Celadon & Rama has a good point. And I dont think it only applies to ethnic food. Restaurants are businesses, not schools. Most restaurants out there are just trying to make a living and make people happy. As we know, people eat at restaurants for a number of different reasons, good food often being the least important.
Yet, for me, the best restaurateurs are the ones that can walk that fine line, serving great food and staying true to their vision, yet still able to make it economically. I just wish there were more of them around.
Try Royal Thai on Pearl in La Jolla. Very authentic; great spring rolls and super-lemony Tom Yum Kai. I've also heard the Ceyledon (sp.?) in Hillcrest is good but I've never been. Taste of Thai in Del Mar is ok, but not as good as Royal. Good luck!!