At Street Side Thai Kitchen, spice-soaked aromas fill an elegantly decorated dining area adorned with crimson curtains and jet-black tables. Enter the restaurant’s epicurean oasis and feast on a menu stacked with warming, customizable sustenance forged from a choice of meats, veggies, and meat substitutes. Culinary journeys commence with appetizers such as deep-fried egg rolls or puffy veggies, a golden-fried, peanut-encrusted crowd brimming with soft tofu, carrot, and taro that flaunts herbaceous goodness like a farmer's trophy room. Street-vendor-style wok and noodle dishes include the ka-prao, a steaming army of rice that surrounds protein centerpieces such as chicken, salmon, scallops, or beef with fresh garlic and bell peppers. Tofu and mock chicken leap into eight styles of curry, including pumpkin-infused and panang varieties, which bathe palates in piquant broths and usher diners into exotic gardens of spice.
Pots filled with yellow, red, and green curries simmer in Ivory Thai Cuisine’s kitchen, waiting to be ladled into bowls alongside slices of chicken or tofu. The curries, a staple of Thai cuisine, arrive on tables next to plates of veggie pad thai packed with carrots, broccoli, and thin brown noodles, all of which have been doused in a special house sauce.
In World Curry's kitchen, cooks have spent the last 17 years working to perfect their curry dishes. Drawing from a store of ingredients gathered from distant nations, the team develops 13 varieties of curry, including brown curry from Japan and red Mussaman curry from northern Thailand. Patrons can also dip their utensils into the Bali beef brisket or fill water balloons with the Caribbean curry, a vegan treat that combines black beans, corn, tomatoes, and pineapple.
Chefs drive the menu at Rama, an upscale eatery whose many accolades include praise from Gayot and Zagat. The latter names the eatery a top Thai restaurant and a top restaurant for décor in San Diego. In the kitchen, chefs stir and sizzle dishes such as pra ram sautéed spinach, massaman curry, kra pao with chicken, and tiger prawns. Specialty cocktails enhance traditional rum, vodka, and tequila with limejuice and ginger. Rama’s acclaimed décor soothes minds troubled by premonitions of upcoming rugby injuries with a waterfall that drips down a stonewall, as well as gauzy, gossamer drapes and glowing lanterns.
When she's not authoring her own cookbook, Chef Isabel Cruz busies herself by merging the Latin flavors of her heritage with Asian inspiration garnered from growing up in Los Angeles. Dinners begin with starters such as crispy shoestring plantains accompanied by chipotle cream ($7) before guests graduate to entrees, including the signature Buddha bowl, a pool of lemongrass, miso, and coconut milk filled with shiitaki mushrooms, veggies, noodles, and cilantro ($12 for dinner; $9.75 for lunch). Chefs marinate the sirloin steak before trimming it, like a caterer's Christmas tree, with shoestring plantains, steamed greens, and cilantro lime sauce ($20).
Hailing from Bangkok, the owners of La Basil Thai Cuisine treat guests to the flavors of their home with authentic recipes that balance fresh herbs and jasmine rice with meats and vegetables. After chopping up fragrant vegetables or preparing a sauce, chefs put together plates such as pad thai or sweet and spicy panang curry loaded with a choice of meat, tofu, vegetables, or seafood. Like the best chefs and the worst traffic directors, the kitchen staff adds their own flair to classic flavors by adding crispy salmon to fried rice or topping roast duck with sweet chili sauce.