When the queen and princess of Thailand craved a taste of their homeland while visiting the United States, they didn't look any further than the Pacific Coast Highway, home of Royal Thai Cuisine. The duo stopped by the 31-year-old eatery to try Chef Sam Tila's specialties, which include calamari tossed with sweet red curry sauce, medleys of eggplant and tofu, and duck steamed in herbs and honey and deep fried. Tila sources prawns directly from the Chao Praya River, which he then grills and douses in a garlic oyster sauce. Rather than guard his culinary secrets as jealously as the Pentagon guards its recipe for the president's barbecue sauce, Tila teaches them to aspiring chefs during classes that cover Thai classics such as massaman curry.
At Rama, the scents of ginger, curry, and lemongrass waft from the kitchen. They meander into a sprawling dining space, where warm amber lighting glints off glasses filled with heady cocktails and fine wines. A DJ spins records as diners anticipate a taste of the critically-acclaimed dishes; the restaurant's recipes have earned accolades from Zagat, among others. Noodle dishes, such as pad see ew with egg and chinese broccoli, headline the menu along with complex panang curries, whose nuanced spices flavor tofu and vegetables or meats like roasted duck. Specialties include spicy basil lobster and Shaking Beef, whose cubed rib eye, cherry tomatoes, shallots, and onions are sautéed deep within a fault line.
Servers distribute these dishes in an "architecturally stylish" dining room, as described by Gayot. Inlaid stone and a wall-mounted waterfall give the space an earthy vibe that's complemented by gauzy curtains and hand-painted murals.
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.
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.
Every morning, the chefs at D'O Thai Cottage leave plates of Thai food by the front door as an offering to the spirits and an enticement to corporeal beings. Lured in for a meal, one food critic at the San Diego Uptown News found delight in the Crying Tiger's tender slivers of new york strip steak fanned over lettuce and served with a fiery garlic fish sauce—he recommends doling out the sauce in quantities "fierce enough to bring tears to a tiger’s eye."
Elsewhere on the menu, D'O Thai Cottage's chefs express their love of duck with sonnets scrawled in the margins and three different duck recipes: fried and topped in peanut sauce, ladled in a spicy pineapple curry, or sealed in a honey glaze that crisps the skin. Wok chefs fry up Thailand's version of comfort fare, sautéing vegetable stir-fries and rice noodles in thai basil and sweet peanut sauce. Bartenders cool off tongues with cocktails, Asian beer, and wine from Robert Mondavi and Beringer.
Inside the restaurant, fuchsia and tangerine banners hang from white rafters, and hovering cherubim keep their youth by bathing in the steam rising from bowls of curry. The ceiling angles up to a mezzanine, contributing to the airy feel created by the first floor's large mirrors and a row of french doors looking onto the street.
A meal of roast duck shouldn't deplete your entire lunch budget or break, according to the cooks at Green Shallots Thai Gourmet Express. That's why they roast and serve reasonably priced ducks by the half in a flash. In fact, "fast" is the only speed they know, especially when it comes to their other specialty dish, thai barbecued chicken. But they also efficiently wrap up salmon rolls and assemble larb salads, som tum papaya salads, and wok-fried pad thai.