Category Archives: Thai

No Car, No Problem? #BARTable Asian Food Part 3

Part 3 of this series takes us to admittedly the hardest, and generally most consistently evolving, BARTable area in terms of surveying the Asian food landscape. Why? Because it takes us to the heart of downtown San Francisco where a number of San Francisco Asian retail and culinary districts are located and the landscape of food in the area is ever evolving. Part of my hesitance to finish this part of the series is on how fast everything changes but I just realized that I can’t be paralyzed by the constantly evolving landscape, otherwise I’d never finish this post and move on to the next post, my stomping grounds in Oakland.

So here we go, a BART station by station guide to downtown San Francisco as of March 2018.

Civic Center Station

Civic Center and the Tenderloin is home to San Francisco’s Little Saigon, a community of Vietnamese immigrants that started springing up in the 1970s and 1980s as refugees from the Vietnam War and its aftermath immigrated here. Over the past few decades the strip of Larkin Street in the Tenderloin has been a center of Vietnamese businesses in the city. As such, you’ll find wonderful places to taste Vietnamese cuisine such as the Vietnamese Chinese style wonton noodle soup at Hai Ky Mi Gia and neighboring Them Ky. You can get Southern Vietnamese style pho at Pho 2000 and Northern Vietnamese pho and other items at Turtle Tower. Banh Mi chain Lee’s Sandwiches also has a location on this stretch of Larkin between Eddy and O’Farrell.

While Vietnamese cuisine has been in the Tenderloin for decades, that last ten years has seen a wave of Thai cuisine in the neighborhood. This includes an outpost of the swanky-ish Ler Ros and the more mom and pop San Jai Thai. If you want Northern style Thai with some fantastic Lao specialities, there’s Tycoon Thai.

Powell Station

Pad Kee Mao at Kin Khao

Pad Kee Mao at Kin Khao

Powell Street Station is the stop for Union Square, the central shopping hub of the city and the area with an endless array of hotels catering to the millions of (mostly well to do) tourists that travel to the city. As such, I generally don’t recommend any Asian restaurant around Union Square and the parts of SoMa near Powell.

However, there are a few bright spots. Northeast of the station, slightly removed from the tourist and shopping hubbub, are a few solid choices. Among them include Chinese hot pot chain Little Sheep, delicious ramen shop Mensho Tokyo, Korean restaurant 707 Sutter, hole in the wall Filipino diner Tselogs, and Vietnamese Chinese seafood restaurant Kim Thanh.

Right by the BART station in the heart of the hustle and bustle are some good options, especially if your wallet is a little more hefty. Michelin starred Kin Khao serves terrific Thai food (their tasting menu, though pricy, is absolutely worth it) and Hakkasan serves solidly refined Cantonese cuisine. And not to be remiss is Tin, a good Vietnamese restaurant in SoMa.

Montgomery Station

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Montgomery Station drops you off in San Francisco’s Financial District. While there are are a few gems during the lunchtime rush like Señor Sisig‘s regular food truck locations on 2nd Street and Pine Street, it’s a rather barren place as a whole for quality Asian food.

However, Montgomery Street is the closest BART station to San Francisco Chinatown. While the hike to Chinatown is generally uphill and requires at least a 10-15 minute walk from the BART station, most places in the neighborhood aren’t too far to be considered unwalkable. Closer to the BART station on the flatter Kearny Street you can find such restaurants as vaunted Cantonese seafood place R&G Lounge, Taiwanese tea and food experts Hanlin Tea Room, and Sichuanese noodle specialist Chong Qing Xiao Mian. 

Further up the hill include upscale Eataly styled restaurant/food emporium China Live and a number of longstanding Cantonese places. These include Kam Po, a delicious purveyor of Cantonese BBQ, and Lai Hong Lounge, a dim sum and Chinese seafood restaurant.

Embarcadero Station

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

And finally at the eastern end of San Francisco before BART heads through the Transbay Tube is Embarcadero Station. Like Montgomery Station there isn’t a plethora of Asian food around it, as expense account new American and European influenced restaurants are generally the norm. A couple bright spots do exist though (and both are also fairly pricey): Yank Sing, a solid purveyor of dim sum with 2 locations, and The Slanted Door, a Vietnamese restaurant that may not live to its previous heights but still serves well executed food.

Downtown San Francisco, overall, has a great volume of Asian restaurants though finding a good one can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  Hopefully this guide can help cut across the clutter and won’t be dated too soon. 

I can’t wait until the next part of this series though, as I head across the bay to my hometown of Oakland.

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Hawking Bird, Oakland

Hawking Bird
4901 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

A lot of Oaklanders were disheartened when James Syhabout’s acclaimed Hawker Fare in Oakland’s uptown area closed earlier this year to make way for more luxury condos and apartments. While you could go to his 2 Michelin star restaurant, Commis, on Piedmont Ave or venture to San Francisco’s Mission District to the remaining outpost of Hawker Fare, East Bay residents yearning for Syhabout’s taste for Northern Thai were waiting for a huge hole to be filled. Fortunately, Syhabout decided to create a fast casual concept called Hawking Bird focusing on Thai style poached and fried chicken.

Hawking Bird opened on Thursday, when, coincidentally enough, I was doing some research to see where my friends should eat for lunch on Saturday. Given the rave reviews of the Khao Mun Gai (Thai version of Hainanese Chinese Rice) at Hawker Fare, I was excited to try it out and it happened to be a short-ish walk from my house.

We met up a little after 12:30PM. There were still a good number of seats and tables available so I sat down and reserved a table for us. When my friends came over, we took a look at the menu quickly and stood in line to order. A few minutes later, our buzzers rang and we picked up our food at the pick up counter near the kitchen. We ordered the following:

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KMG at Hawking Bird

  • KMG – Hawking Bird’s version of khao mun gai is flavorful with chicken poached just to doneness (though a friend of mine who also ordered the dish feared it may have not been quite cooked through). The meat was tender and the subtle flavor helped the sauce shine through and meld perfectly. The rice itself had the flavor of the poached chicken broth that allowed it to be aromatic without being too rich and fatty. Overall, a pretty good rendition of the dish.
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The Hawking Bird with Garlic Noodles

  • The Hawking Bird, Boxed – 2 of my friends got the hawking bird, one with the rice cooked with chicken fat and the other with the garlic noodles. The difference between the hawking bird and the KMG, as you can see in the pictures, is that the hawking bird itself is fried with a spicy jam-like sauce on top. The chicken was fried perfectly and the jam gave it a slightly sweet and perfectly spicy kick to it. It melded well with the rice but the garlic noodles were even better. The garlic noodles were made with perfectly cooked wheat noodles that had a nice kick of garlic and a very savory soy-based sauce. My one slight quibble with it was that when I ate part of my friend’s leftovers, the sauce of the garlic noodles and the jam of the hawking bird could meld into a concoction that’s a tad bit salty. But otherwise, you can’t go wrong with either dish.
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Tum Style Spicy Picked Vegetables at Hawking Bird

  • Tum Style Spicy Vegetable Pickles – The vegetables included in the pickles were carrots, onions, and green beans. I liked the pickles in that it provided a nice slightly sour kick that helped cut the richness in the other bites of food I was eating. While there was a nice amount of fish sauce, unfortunately I didn’t feel it was very spicy so those who are excited about the “spicy” part of the name are warned before getting disappointed.
  • Fried Tater Tots – The tater tots were pretty good, though I think they could have been fried just a slight bit longer. The seasoning was nice and light and my friends and I surmised that the seasoning is a mixture of seaweed powder, salt, and pepper. It was definitely a hit amongst the table.

All in all I really loved the Hawking Bird and think it’s a good addition to Temescal, providing good food at reasonable prices in a fast casual style. They are still open for limited hours until they get a liquor license for the bar and everything else up and running. However, if you manage to be in the Temescal area for lunch, I definitely recommend taking a bite at Hawking Bird.

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Thai Food in Portland

Portland is 72.2% non-Hispanic White and only 7.1% Asian. Given those statistics, I was extremely skeptical of Portland’s reputation of having really good Thai food. This is especially given that Andy Ricker, the chef/owner of the highly celebrated Pok Pok, is not Thai himself. (That’s not to say that non-Asians can’t be expert in a specific cuisine, as Fuschia Dunlap has done with Sichuan cuisine). Because of this, I just had to eat Thai food on my business trip to Portland just to taste and judge for myself.

Pok Pok Noi
1469 NE Prescott St.
Portland, OR 97211

Since it was a bit far for us to go to the original Pok Pok in Southeast Portland late on a Sunday night, my friend and I went to Pok Pok’s second location in Northeast Portland instead. Situated in a fairly residential part of Portland, we took seats at the counter of the cozy restaurant digs.

Ike's Vietnamese Chicken Wings at Pok Pok Noi

Ike’s Vietnamese Chicken Wings at Pok Pok Noi

It was hard to decide what item to get, as nearly every item sounded delicious (and this is a pared down menu from the original!), but I decided to get Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Chicken Wings. They were every bit as delicious as the raves on Yelp and other websites said they were. The skin was crispy and sticky with the slightly spicy fish sauce glaze. The meat inside was very juicy and infused some of the flavor of the fish sauce. There were some pickled vegetables on the side that helped to cut some of the richness of the wings. It’s not the only good chicken dish on the menu either, as the bites of chicken from my friend’s Pok Pok Special of Kai Yaang was just as amazing.

But Pok Pok isn’t just known for its food. It has more than 10 flavors of tasting vinegars as well. I got the ginger tasting vinegar, which was mixed with soda water, and it was a fabulously refreshing drink that had just enough gingery spice without being overpowering. The tasting vinegars are another good way to cut through the richness and fat of some of the dishes as well.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai
609 SE Ankeny St., Suite C
Portland, OR 97214

Pok Pok, however, isn’t Portland’s only well regarded Thai restaurant. Nong’s Khao Man Gai started in a very Portland way, as a food truck, and has since grown to a local mini chain that includes a brick and mortar store. Luckily for me, the brick and mortar restaurant was just a few blocks from my hotel, so it was a breeze to take advantage of that and grab a bite.

Nong's Khao Man Gai

Khao Man Gai at Nong’s Khao Man Gai

At the restaurant, like at a food truck, you order first. While there were a few options, I opted, of course, for the khao man gai, the Thai take on Hainanese Chicken Rice. I also got a side of steamed vegetables to make sure I got a balance of meat and vegetables. The khao man gai came out fairly quickly and it was delicious. The bits of chicken was poached excellently and balanced well by the spicy, gingery dipping sauce. While the chicken stock was a little saltier than I liked, it also provided a nice way to wash down the chicken and rice. The rice itself was cooked well too, with enough of the fattiness from the leftover poached chicken to have a nice, rich taste.

The steamed vegetables, on the other hand, were just alright. It consisted of both broccoli and Chinese broccoli bits that were steamed until just tender. While they were textually nice, they also lacked a little bit of flavor, but I suppose I shouldn’t expect more when I order just steamed vegetables. In any case, it was at least nice to have some greens to go with the chicken, rice, and sauce.

All in all, the Thai food in Portland, at least from my sampling, lived up to the hype and high expectations. While I still think there are cities with better Thai food like San Francisco and Los Angeles, Portland definitely gives those cities a run for its money. So the next time you’re in Portland, don’t just eat at their great New American restaurants like Tasty and Sons or Pine Street Biscuits, make sure to take a trip to their wonderful Thai restaurants as well.

 

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