Thai food in Berkeley area -- where to go?

Let me know where to go. All ideas welcome.

I really enjoyed Larb Thai Food & Tapas, a new place in the old Mac’s Wok spot in El Cerrito.

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I’ve been here a few times now, and love the Thai boat noodles. It’s the best I know of in the East bay, as good as Pak Nam in the tenderloin and better than Kyu2 and Sai Jai Thai. I am thinking that Zen Yai is better to my taste but need to revisit.

Khao Ka Moo was very good but I would prefer a wetter, torn or chopped pork leg vs. the sliced roast that they give. But the sauce and everything was on point. Saap Ver may be better. Thai Kao Soy was very good in terms of seasoning intensity, but really too sweet for me, and I don’t ding places for being too sweet generally. Also, I prefer dark meat- this was all white. Jasmine Blossom in Emeryville may be better.

I’ve had a couple of their skewers, which have been quite good, especiallly the ones with their house sauce, which seems homemade or at least seriously doctored up. Intestine and tongue have been satisfying.

I mean to try the dry tom yum and maybe a fried noodle of some kind too.

We’ve been to Larb Thai a couple of times, it’s a very promising place but a bit inconsistent. First time we went the duck larb was completely lacking in acidity- needed a good hit of lime. Grilled rice patties were bland and pale comparisons of authentic Thai street food. They need to focus on QC. Last time we tried “dry tom yum” which was basically a ho-hum Pad Thai! I have no idea why they call it “dry tom yum” because there was nothing about it that suggested Tom Yum. That list visit was much better than our first- everything was very good except for the dry tom yum.

We haven’t been to Soi4 yet, but we have been to Larb Thai as well as the new Daughter Thai Kitchen, which has a little more of a fusion edge. But…it is in Oakland, although a pretty straight shoot down Hwy 13 towards the 580 split.

We both voted DTK far superior to LT. Better quality, consistent execution, good service. The rice ball salad, which is the softer style of rice similar to Syhabout’s Hawker Fare Issan dish, was far, far better at DTK than at HF. Beautiful small starter plates, but entrees are surprisingly large.

Spouse loved the 24 hr Beef Noodle Soup, which he called hands-down the best beef noodle soup he’s had at any Asian restaurant for the past 50 yrs. We really liked that DTK’s five spice mix uses REAL cinnamon - the Ceylon, or true, cinnamon - not the cheaper, harsh hot cassia that 99% of places use (both Asian and non-Asian).

Don’t miss their version of fried chicken, either - massive 1/2-chicken breast, butterflied and with a crisp, light, shattering batter, served with (a milder version of) fermented anchovy/lime dip and a bowl of yummy potato coconut cream yellow curry. The roti was amazing, and I don’t say that lightly - hot, flaky, delicate.

Desserts are humonguous and really need to be cut down in size. But the bread pudding was a delightful variant, altho big enough for 3-4 people to share! The Thai Vacation (coconut, coconut ice cream, sticky rice) was okay but needs some rethinking.

Excellent high quality tea. Espresso machine only so I got an Americano with dessert and was impressed, it’s almost as strong as the coffee we make at home, LOL. Found the fruit drinks too sweet - I cut them with some water.

Flavors at Daughter Thai are intense, complex, and earthy. Minimal sugar used. Reminded us of Thai restaurants 40 yrs ago, before tons of sweetener started to be used in Asian restaurant kitchens.

DTK is highly recommended by us.

My go-to Thai place in Berkeley is Imm Thai on University. It seems to be perpetually jammed with students and other people looking for a cheap-ish meal. The meat is always overcooked in all their dishes but other than that the food is pretty good. I always order the yellow curry and the sauce is delicious. I will second Jasmine Blossom in Emeryville as a good Thai food option in the area.

One place not mentioned yet is Sabuy Sabuy II on San Pablo in Berkeley. It’s consistently good. When we go we ask to have the chef cook for us. He comes out and asks you questions and makes a meal based on what is fresh. I recommend it.

One disappointing dish we had on our first visit to Larb Thai is Kow Soi. This is one of my favorite Thai dishes but their version was not very good. The noodles had a weird cardboardy texture, not nearly enough liquid in the dish and the spicing seemed odd -overly cinnamony? -and off balance.

Thanks for the lead! I’ll check it out.

DTK sounds great. Will hit Larb too.
All these leads here are great.

We keep meaning to return to Sabuy Sabuy II/Berkeley because so many folks rave about it. But I can say that lunch there was mediocre. Indifferent greasy, ordinary cooking. We assume dinner is better?

We tried DT last night. Very impressed.
The Kang Kua Prawns where unabashedly spiced, super peppery and not overly rich. Served with assorted raw Herbs and Greens (nice to see this as most place you get just raw Cabbage).
Shrimp Cakes (tod mun goong) Well made and nicely presented. A little light on the Kaffir Lime for me but still very good.
“Sai Oua” Thai Sausage says it is “southern” but tastes the same as the non-fermented Issan one to me which i just fine.
This was more than enough for the two of us.

I also found Sabuy Sabuy II underwhelming. I do like some of the dishes at Chai Thai in Oakland quite a lot.

" We assume dinner is better?"

I do think dinner is better than lunch at Subuy Sabuy II. I recently have been craving Pad Thai. I tried the Pad Thai there at lunch and at dinner and thought there was a huge difference. The dinner version was excellent and the lunch version just ok.

The way to go at Sabuy Sabuy II is to go for dinner and get there early when the main chef is cooking. I believe he leaves at 8 PM. Tell the waitress you want the chef to make you dinner. The chef will come out and ask you questions and make you a meal based on what is fresh. We’ve never been disappointed when we do that

A huge loss for us in terms of Thai food was when the wonderful .Ran Kanom and Ran Kanom Noddles closed a few years ago. I still crave her fish ball curry and crispy rice salad and spicy condiments.

Ran Kanom was good. We went there for a family dinner and 14 of us tried most of the menu. But we prefer Daughter Thai.

One note that makes us - wistful? sad? When Siam Bay/Oakland first opened 19 yrs ago, it was pretty much a food desert in Old Oakland. Way, way before gentrification and the condos came. The owner, M. Thongbanthum, had his mother with him originally. She was teaching his cooks the recipes she used for the Royal Family when she worked in the palace, later returning home.

The food was amazing - complex, beautiful, spicy. But…it just didn’t sell well. The area has improved, and he gets regular business from the downtown workers. But they still tell him “Oh, your food is too hot” and “You know, I like it sweeter(!)”.

So the food is very run-of-the-mill, Americanized Thai nowadays. When M. Thongbanthum is there and we come in, he recognizes us and tells the kitchen to make the dishes the “traditional” way. But the majority of his customers want the sugar-laden mild curries and sprout-laden Pad Thais. It’s really sad.

He’s done okay financially, but is thinking of retiring and selling the business. He introduced us to some wonderful dishes, and we’re forever grateful to him. A really nice guy, a definite asset to our local small business community.

If we go, do you think we can ask for the food cooked the ‘traditional’ way too? Maybe we should do a banquet there if they allow it.

We went to Thai daughter Friday night. They were celebrating Thai New Years so the atmosphere was very festive with the staff in colorful costumes and a very enjoyable soundtrack of traditional(?) Thai music.

The restaurant was larger than I expected. The room was expansive and painted white and had a warm almost Mediterranean welcoming feeling. The waitstaff were friendly and efficient and things seemed to be flowing like a well oil machine. It was a nice contrast to recent restaurant experiences where the waitstaff are running around looking for things to do while ignoring the patrons.

Here is what we ate:

A grilled octopus appetizer served with grilled asparagus. I tend to like my grilled octopus slightly more charred then this was, but this was still an excellent dish. The fat spears of asparagus underneath were sweet and delicious. The sauce that accompanied the dish was well balanced and accentuated the flavors of the octopus and asparagus. When we were eating this dish, the music playing was some kind of traditional Thai music that was reminiscent of Greek music. So it almost felt like being in a Mediterranean taverna with brilliant white painted walls and grilled octopus.

Our second appetizer was one of the specials. It was some kind of fish cakes or fish dumplings and pork sautéed in a spicy sauce. This was the spiciest dish of the evening. The spice level was very hot -perfect for us though. The deeply flavored fish cakes had a softer texture than most versions of fish cakes which can sometimes border on rubbery. It was very satisfying when you ate a piece of fish cake and some of the umami rich pork and rich spicy sauce. Tasted like something transported from the streets of Bangkok.

The third appetizer we had was grilled pork sausage. This reminded us a lot of the version we used to enjoy at the long gone Ruan Pair restaurant in Berkeley. We recently had a similar dish at Larb Thai. The Larb Thai version was a bit too soft in texture and not as deeply flavored as the Daughter Thai version.

For the main course we shared the Southern fish curry Gang Tai Pla. Described as: “SPICY Pickled fish stew in turmeric, lemongrass & exotic herbs Squash, Thai eggplant, and green beans (No Coconut Milk) Served with Crispy Pork Belly, Vermicelli Noodle & herbs.” It came with herbs and raw Thai eggplant and Bok choy on the side. The vegetables were a bit awkward to eat but still good. The fish was outstanding- very deeply flavored. Very spicy and also very full of funky Thai flavors- earthy, umami, ocean. Definitely not for the unadventurous. But we loved it. We recently had a similar dish at another restaurant but the version at Daughter Thai was more fully realized. The other version (at Larb Thai) was blow your head off spicy but lacked the complexity and depth of flavor of the Daughter Thai version. The dish was served with vermicelli noodles and the pairing was excellent, next time I might ask for extra noodles. The addition of crispy pork belly elevated the dish, though I am
not sure it was essential. The dish was also served with the fresh dill on the side. I added some of the fresh dill to the fish and took a bite. It was a culinary wow moment. One of the moments of sheer taste enjoyment that you experience once in a while but not very often. This dish reminded my husband of a similar dish we had in Bangkok.

I am very picky about Thai food and am sometimes disappointed by restaurants others rave about (Lers Ros in SF is a good example). Based on our first visit I was very impressed with DT. The dishes we ate were very well thought out and well executed, had bold spicy funky Thai flavors (not just heat but funk), were not overly sweet, used high quality ingredients and were fully realized. Moreover the food seemed very authentic and reminiscent of Thai food in Thailand. I am looking forward to going back and trying more dishes from their interesting menu and seeing how consistent the food and QC is.

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We’ve only gone for lunch, but have enjoyed the gai gra prao kai dao at Bird and Buffalo in Temescal a few times. Decent spice and portion paired with an accompaniment of blistered garlic green beans.
Bird & Buffalo
4659 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA, 94609

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Thanks for the rec. I’ll go check it out!!

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