Is Daughter Thai the best* Thai restaurant in the SF Bay Area (*their claim, not mine)?

On Daughter Thai’s web site, they proclaim that ‘Daughter Thai Kitchen is The Best Thai Restaurant in The Bay Area’. Best of anything is always hard to measure since often we are comparing apples and oranges. But I finally made it there after a kiddie train ride up on Berkeley Hills. Most of the items were very lovely. Which prompted me to wonder- can Daughter Thai give a run for Pim’s money, as Kin Khao to me is the best refined Thai restaurant in the Bay Area (not that there is a lot of competition)? And is Daughter Thai better than the other mid-tier Thai restaurants?

First, a couple of recent reviews from @Lethe2020 and @geo12the from the Berkeley Thai thread:


Here are what we ate:

Kai yang chicken:
Wonderful half chicken marinated in tumeric and coconut milk. Complex layer of sauce outside the chicken skin was a bit hit with everyone including kids and finger-licking good. Tasted a litlte

Ko-youk pork belly:
Where the dish shined when the pork belly was dipped into the chili plum sauce that gave provided heat and aroma. By itself, the five spice pork belly was mildly marinated and a bit on the dry side, though the five spice was very balanced and restrained. @Lethe2020 how did you tell they used real cinnamon?

Gang tai pla (southern fish curry):

Great- very spicy and intermixed with a bit of funk from the fermented (fish/ fish sauce). Complex and delicious. Came with crisp-fried pork belly small cubes for textural contrast, (some sort of fish, bamboo shoots) and herbs. The server warned me ahead of time that 1) its spicy and 2) its funky. I came for this dish and I was not to be deterred by a warning. If anything, I didn’t think it was as funky I thought given the warning. But it really was spicy, but definitely not one-dimensional. No dill provided. Hmmph.

Sai oua (southern thai sausage):

Its pretty good, but I wouldn’t mind if they make the spicing bolder or spicier.

Papaya salad that came with one of the above dishes:

Adequate though not memorable.

Overall a very good meal. I haven’t eaten at many thai restaurants lately, but I’d happily return to try more items. Based on the limited sample, Daughter Thai definitely falls in the top tier of our Thai restaurants with its refined spicing and cooking. I came here for the gang tai pla, but went away wanting more of the kai yang chicken. Best or not, we’ll have to see.

What are your opinions on their dishes, the specials and other items on the menu? What do you think of their ‘Best of the Bay Area’ claim?

Menu from Yelp:

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It’s easy to tell the difference between cassia and Ceylon, or “true” cinnamon as it’s sometimes called, once you’ve done a head-to-head taste test.

Ceylon cinnamon is softer, very floral; its pungency is subtle in profile.

Cassia aka Vietnamese cinnamon (altho it comes from several areas, not just Vietnam), is harsher, hotter, little floral bouquet. Its nose is spicy and hot, not flowery. Cassia is what is used in the old-time candy “Red Hots”. It is much, much cheaper than Ceylon cinnamon.

Both have their uses, but they are no more alike than oregano and basil. Once you’re aware of the difference you can’t mistake one for the other unless the quantity used is very small.

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I wouldn’t say Daughter Thai is THE BEST in the SFBA. It’s easily the class of the EBay, but our bar is pretty low out here. Like other Asian cuisines, Thai has been Americanized almost to the point of being unrecognizable.

Truthfully, there are just so many things Asians eat that we usually don’t (I’m married to a guy born in Hong Kong, and despite our both being Asian there’s a clear cultural/generational difference in how/what we eat).

I think DTK does the dishes it chooses to offer, very well. But there are many dishes they don’t do, and I get the sense although they ‘push the envelope’ on offering “authentic” flavors, they also edit carefully what the menu offers to avoid the expense of trying to offer dishes that only a small percentage of diners would order.

I think that’s a wise decision. As nice as it would be to have a broader menu, in these days of high rents and ever-higher food/labor costs, trying to be ‘all things to cuisine newbies and sophisticated world travelers’ is a good way to drive a small restaurateur out of business.

As an example, we dearly loved Robin Low’s cooking at Post Meridian. She is classically French-trained and a simply amazing chef, as good as you can get. But she tried to do too much and throw too wide a net at PM. Her location was remote (as is DTK’s; if you don’t know it’s there you would never ‘just be stopping by, in the neighborhood’) and she finally closed after bleeding money for months. It was too ambitious a menu for a small out-of-the-way restaurant.

These days you have to specialize. Narrow focus and cut costs where you can. If that means restricting the menu to 12 or 15 ‘greatest hits’, then that’s what an owner has to do. That’s why the fastest-growing category is fast/casual.

The downside is, there are many great dishes that are going to get lost in the shuffle, because restaurants copy one another like crazy. Eventually customers forget the other dishes even exist, and more culinary tradition and history falls in the dustbin.

OK, falling off my soapbox for now…(thud).

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You are spot on about “editing”, fried chicken and roti.

Good question. The QC of so many restaurants is lacking and this seems especially true of Bay Area Thai restaurants. It certainly is near the top. Other places I’ve tried: Lers Ros: I think of it as the emperor with no clothes of Thai restaurants. I don’t think it’s all that good. Kin Khao: excellent but too expensive for regular visits. Sabuy Sabuy II. Great if you go and have the chef cook for you. Larb Thai in El Cerrito: hit or miss but can be excellent and authentic depending on what you order. For a place with Larb in their name though, the Larb I have had there is meh. Also mediocre Kow Soi. Daughter is great but I feel like they are straddling the line between authentic and Americanized. They want to have it both ways; sadly too many people want dumbed down Asian food. Their famous chicken wings for example I can imagine being on the menu at a place like PF Changs. I’ve been to Daughter several visits now. Last time we had Tom Kha Gai which was decent and the southern fish curry which is my favorite dish on the menu so far. We’ve tried some other curries there and they have been a bit too tame for me. On recent visits Crispy rice salad was fantastic and spring rolls good. I miss the cooking at Ran Kanom Thai- while rough around the edges it was always vibrant and funky. Back to the original question, is Daughter the best Thai restaurant in the Bay Area? I don’t know but while there is some inconsistency, it’s my current favorite.

The issue with Lers Ros is their menu is huge. Trying to be offer something to everyone, but its impossible to be good at everything.

I think if a Thai restaurant’s focus is not just curry in every color and meat combination, sugary pad thai and pad see ew, its already in the top quartile. How many are these? Maybe at most 20? Pretty much all in the Tenderloin and between 580 and Carquinez.

How so? Please do tell.

I meant to say that it tasted a little Burmese actually.

There is inconstancy for me in how well conceived and successful the menu items are.

For example in the appetizers I loved the grilled octopus and have had it twice so far. It’s a simple elegant dish: well prepared octopus elevated with a spicy Thai relish.

In contrast the Ahi Scoops came across as clunky, and not as original or enjoyable.

A couple items others have raved about I found good but not great: 24 Hours Beef Noodle Soup and Crab fried rice.

Slow Cooked Beef Curry veered too much into the sweet Americanized Thai curry realm for me

I was wondering if anyone can compare Daughter to Farmhouse Kitchen (their sister restaurant in SF, I’ve never been)

My HK-born DH loves that soup. Says it’s so far the best one he’s had in a restaurant, and “almost” as good as a homemade soup.

I thought it was good, better than average, but nowhere near as good as a homemade soup. I make a lot of stock and it’s both time-consuming and [relatively] expensive.

Could be that we got it on an off night. The broth seemed very light.

This is the reason I don’t really enjoy restaurant soups. I learned to make stock the classic way, so all the shortcuts restaurants/chains take seem very obvious to my taste buds. DH just plain enjoys soup, and he always prefers a clear soup, even if weak, to a cream or puree type.

The first soup we tried at DTK was the Tom Kha. We found it inferior to versions we’ve had elsewhere. The second time we came, DH tried the 24 hr Beef Noodle and both of us thought it was much better than the Tom Kha. So the former is his preference, IF he’s ordering soup.

Hope that explains it more clearly!

I agree about the Tom Kha soup. It was decent but I’ve had much better versions. The broth was a bit thin, good versions have a thicker velvety texture and was lacking in the depth of flavor, definitely needed more seasoning and a touch of acid.

My second meal there with a group we had more non-special dishes. Overall I think the specials differentiate Daughter Thai from the generic Thai restaurants. We had:

Shrimp Cake - One of the better rendition around. Came with a little heat with the curry paste, bouncy texture. Delicious.

Hat Yai Fried Chicken. Half a Mary’s chicken. The batter was interesting to me that the texture felt more like a fried spring roll which was smoother rather than a chicken skin with dimples. The chicken was fine, but to me was upstaged by the humbler potato curry with the roti, which I thought was delicious.

Cha Ca La Vong- pan seared Basa with noodle, rice paper and peanut sauce. The components were all adequate independently, but I couldn’t quite get the flavors of the components to ‘gel’ together in the wrap, since the peanut sauce seemed to provide most of the flavors with the noodles and rice paper unseasoned. Perhaps my ratio was off.

Pad thai:

Adequate. Not overly sweet.

Prad Ka Prao with pork- dry, chewy pork made this a dish to forget.

So the second meal wasn’t quite as successful as my first. But I will be happy to keep sampling more items, especially the specials on their menu.

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They are available for delivery through Caviar so we ordered delivery recently on a weeknight. Fried chicken was good but agree that it was upstaged by the yellow curry. The next day I added some rotisserie chicken to the leftover yellow curry and it was excellent. The fried chicken reminded me of McDonald’s chicken nuggets, and the spices did not seem very similar to the fried chicken I had in southern Thailand.

Kua Gling was very spicy and delicious, with lots of lemongrass and green peppercorn. Would definitely order again, and it is not an item you see on many menus.

Green curry was excellent also. Based on their yellow and green curries, I think their strength is curry and will be trying the others in the future.

I was worried after ordering Kang Kua Prawns for lunch after not finding gang tai pla on the menu and hearing two surrounding tables confirm with the waiter that the dishes they were ordering were not spicy.
Luckily my worries were unfounded and the prawn curry with young coconut strips was rich and delicious, with the great balance of flavors I hope for with Thai curries. It came with a bunch of fresh greens, some of which I found confusing in this context, like perilla (I don’t really think it harmonizes well with much), raw bok choy leaves, and raw choy sum leaves.
And, it turns out the gang som white fish (sour curry) and gang tai pla (fermented fish stew) are only available at dinnertime.

Their curry game is certainly strong, though prices are fairly high. Atmosphere is nice, and they are easily able to satisfy both the spice averse and me, so I will definitely be back with mixed groups. I also enjoy the (much cheaper) Chai Thai Noodle, but will be back to Daughter Thai for their specialties.

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We went to Farmhouse Thai (between the Mission and Potrero Hill in SF) for lunch on Sunday. The menu is somewhat different from Daughter Thai; I didn’t photograph it, but it’s on their website. The place is reasonably sized, cheerily decorated, and it filled up within a half hour of opening.

This was “Herbal Rice Salad”, which came unmixed. Quite tasty, but perhaps a bit small for $14, considering the actual cost of the ingredients.

Clockwise from left: Hat Yai fried chicken, Panang Neua short rib, Kai Yang BBQ chicken.

The Hat Yai was a letdown after the strong recommendations I’d read. It was all breast, not well-fried (fryer temperature too low, I suspect). The roti was kind of leaden. The yellow curry with potato was good, though.

The short rib was the best of the dishes we ordered, though the meat itself was underspiced if one got a chunk without the Panang curry topping.

The Kai Yang was better than expected, and the papaya salad had a good kick to it. (Two of the four in our party could not deal with heat, so I ordered accordingly, and we were not asked what spice level we wanted.)

As you can probably tell from the photos, they’ve thought about the visual presentations. The food was not as incandescent as I’ve had at the best Thai places elsewhere in North America, but certainly above average for the Bay Area. With mains priced at $20-24, prices are also above average. We had our water glasses topped off regularly but service was otherwise unremarkable.

I will probably go back for weekday lunch and see what fireworks I can convince the kitchen to deliver.

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According to the owners, they want Daughter Thai to be the most authentic of the three restaurants, as well as the hottest!

Daughter Thai Kitchen gets written up by Nosh, and apparently their spice level – the highest of the three restaurants owned by the family – is going even higher, if that’s possible. They’re running a competition over the next two months: finish one of their “super spicy” special curries offered each Friday and Saturday during the interim, and you won’t be charged for your dinner:

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Last night we went back to Daughter Thai for the first time in a couple months. I would say it was our best visit yet. We left with a reminder of how exquisite Thai food can be when it’s perfectly balanced and perfectly executed. Thai food is often off balance: Typical generic Americanized Thai food is overly sweet or at the other extreme one dimensionally spicy. This was the case in a recent visit to a Thai place near us that seemed to think dumping on red Chile makes the food “authentic”.

We had reservations and when we arrived the place was packed. I was happy to see that- It should be. Service as usual was welcoming and warm. The three dishes we ate Friday night were perfectly balanced and harmonious. Here is what we ate:

Spicy fish cakes. 4 rounded flattened sautéed fish cakes. Texture was firm. Flavors of turmeric and other spices transformed this into something that seemed more than the sum of its parts. Excellent. I would definitely order this again.

Papaya salad. Papaya salad is pretty ubiquitous and in retrospect seems like not the most adventurous choice. But I was really in the mood for papaya salad. And this version did not disappoint. Everything was in perfect balance: the heat, the acidity, the funk, the sweetness, the vegetal hit of the long beams. No one element overwhelmed the dish as can sometimes happen.

Massaman curry beef short ribs. WOW! This was a stunner. We first had good Massaman curry in Thailand when we visited during the millennium many years ago. But when I’ve ordered massaman curry in the states it is usually dissappointing: one dimensionally sweet or peanuty. This was by far the best Massaman curry I remember eating outside of Thailand. The boneless rib meat was tender and meaty. The sauce was deeply flavored and balanced. Outstanding!

One thing to note is that this place is more expensive than most Thai restaurants. But it’s worth it. To get back to the original question: is Daughter Thai the best in the Bay Area? Based on our last visit I would say yes. Hope they keep it up.

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Like people from every culture, not all Thais cook well. Off balance doesn’t necessarily make it less authentic, just bad authentic. I’ve had home cooked Thai dishes that were overly sweet and one dimensionally hot. Although I’ve never been, it does seem like professionals (restaurants and street vendors) in Thailand are far above average. I’ve never once read a complaint about a bad meal there. Anyway, just some thoughts, not sure what my point is.

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Glad to hear the meal was stellar. I hope they can keep it up.

I have heard stories about American diners wanting to eat like Thai people by ordering everything ‘Thai hot’. The bemused kitchen obliged by dumping into each dishes tons of chiles, well beyond what’s needed in an authentic Thai dish. So I think to a certain extent, we as diners condition the Thai kitchens to think that way too.

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I’ve never once read a complaint about a bad meal there.

I’ve had meh meals is other parts of Asia but never in Thailand. Pretty much everything I have eaten there I have loved.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold