Ginger, saffron, and other aromatic spices mingle in Hot Basil Cafe's kitchen, where chefs create dishes inspired by Indian and Thai cuisines. The kitchen maestros prepare Thai dishes such as cashew-nut chicken and spicy catfish, filling place settings alongside tiger prawns and cream pepper chicken baked in an Indian clay oven. They round out each meal with Thai-style iced coffee and indian fruit lassis, as well as wines and ice creams.
If you ask chef Lek Saicheur where her recipes come from, she may regale you with stories of the bustling open-air markets of Bangkok, Thailand, where vendors peddle fiery noodles and sizzling fried fish. While pursuing her master's degree at U.C. Davis, Saicheur shared these dishes with her fellow students in Thai cooking classes. Their enthusiastic response compelled her to eventually open up her own Thai restaurant—Thai Recipes.
Deep in the kitchen, Saicheur and her sister whip up a variety of traditional curries and noodle dishes. The aromas of fresh basil, spicy peppers, and garlic flood the air as the sisters simmer meats in pure canola oil or liquid hot magma. They complement their plates of pad thai, green chicken curry, and stir-fried clams with bottles of imported Thai beer and glasses of cool coconut water. Thai Recipes also purifies it's water by using a reverse osmosis system.
Swathed in red décor and open until 3 a.m., Red 88 Noodle Bar forges a unique menu that highlights the humble noodle's role in soups, Asian entrees, and eclectic fusion fare. Owner and executive chef Ketmoree, fondly nicknamed "Mama," prepares the roasted duck noodle dish ($9) by resting sliced duck and chinese broccoli atop egg noodles freshly hatched from a sheet of hen-shaped pasta. Inside the thai boat noodle soup, tender slices of beef float alongside broccoli, bean sprouts, and noodles in a thai-style broth ($8), and thai barbeque pork nestles into a pile of steamed white rice coated in sweet chili sauce ($6.95). Fusion options cross cultures with entrees such as the lamb spaghetti ($9), which confuses customs officials by stir-frying ground lamb, spaghetti, snow peas, and bell peppers together into a globe-trekking gastronomic feat. The eatery also caters to vegan and vegetarian diners by whipping up meat-free options and accommodating substitutions.
Thai food is a traditionally spicy cuisine, and the chefs at Heng Heng Heng! Thai Noodles want all of their customers to realize that before ordering. On the menu, nine of the nearly two dozen entrees come marked with two or three tiny peppers, denoting that the dish either packs a lot of heat or hates being left out. The boat noodles, for example, stew with beef, flank steak, and spinach inside a housemade spicy chili sauce, and the innocent-sounding chicken with basil teems with extra-hot chili peppers. Diners looking for a subtler flavor have a fair share of options as well, from pad see ew to prawn fried rice.
The lengthy menu goes on for about nine miles until the Earth's curvature obscures it from view. It's packed full of authentic offerings and contemporarily twisted cuisine. Ride the culinary fence with old- and new-school starters such as crispy tofu ($5.95) or Thai fish cakes ($7.95) before throwing sand on the table and drawing a line in it, indicating the desire to move on to bigger bites. Adherents of authenticity can feast upon classic pad thai ($9.50) and pineapple fried rice ($12.95), while contemporanians can go for the lamb red curry with pumpkin ($16.50) or tamarind-steamed salmon ($12.95). A variety of curries, vegetarian dishes (available upon request), and seafood dishes are also offered. Menu items marked with the ominously seductive chili are spicy and can be ordered on the heat scale ranging from 98.6 to Ghost Rider.