Top Thai Eats in Sonoma County

vanessa.jpgSomeone has to say it: Pad thai has become as exotic as American cheese. And even that’s a stretch.

The culinary rebound to our national breakup with Chinese food, we rushed into a love affair with Thai cuisine in the early 1990s. In those heady days, it seemed so fresh and exotic after years of MSG migraines. There were recognizable vegetables, perfumed rices, steaming curries. But the bloom’s off the lemongrass.

Now the fodder of food courts and craft fairs, the sticky, gooey, brown sugar, peanut butter and ketchupy mess that usually passes for Thai food these days is downright shameful. So is there any “authentic” Thai to be had? The journey is the destination…

Aroon Thai Market (2770 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa, 576-0256): Ask a native Thai which restaurants they’d actually eat at and wait for the fireworks. “Oh, its all just too sweet. Thai food isn’t not supposed to be that sweet,” says Pui Maliwan, an Aroon employee, wrinkling her nose when I ask where the best Thai food is found. Walking the aisles of the tidy southeast Asian specialty store, she points to native ingredients — tamarind paste, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, and delicate fish sauces — that are too often absent or substituted in Americanized Thai cuisine. “Sometimes restaurants try to get creative, and not in a good way.” So, where does she eat? Maliwan points me to…


larb.jpgBaan Thai (424 Larkfield Center, Santa Rosa, 576-8621): Quietly hidden in the Molsberry’s shopping center in Larkfield, this pint-sized eatery is word-of-mouth only. High marks to their peanut sauce, which enhances the food  rather than launching an all-out peanut assault. Maliwan gave high marks to the pad thai as well, but peanut curry (Kang-Mus Mun) wins the day with combo of sweet and savory spices that has me craving gallons of the stuff. Which led me to…

Van Vieng Khan (3446 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 206-0884): Vanessa Keovanxat is the queen of Laotian cuisine in SoCo, a culinary kissin’ cousin to Thai. Thailand borders land-locked Laos, but the two cuisines have their own bloodlines. Where Thai food has sweeter, more subtle perfumes and flavors, Laotian goes for one-two punch with bold sour, salty and spicy intensity. Think Jennifer Garner versus J-Lo. The south Santa Rosa Ave. location takes a little searching out, but regulars know its worth the hunt. Larb Beef (go for the Lao-style) is a sassy mix of minced beef (you can get it with tripe and other organ meat by asking), lemon grass, mint, chili sauce and roasted rice. Vanessa also cooks up crispy quail, mouth-numbing papaya salad (with pork skins), her own fried beef jerky, whole fried tilapia, dangerously good Drunken Noodles and a peanut curry to weep for. Veer off-menu and you’ll be doubly rewarded: She usually has a secret pot of Kao Poon cooking in back, an oft-changing soup/curry served with slithery rice noodles that defies explanation. Plus on Saturday nights, the restaurant is a Laotian hang-out where, if you’re lucky, you’ll get in on orders of fried duck heads, peppered grasshoppers and karoake. Yeah, really. Which is pretty much the exact opposite of…

Sea Thai Bistro (2323 Sonoma Ave @ Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, 707.528.8333, also in Petaluma): Refined, Thai-fusion dishes that marry authentic flavors with California cuisine. This is haute-Thai, with dishes like King Crab fried rice with dried cherries, Street Fair Noodles — a sort of smokey, bbq version of Pad Thai, and red pumpkin curry that’s rich, delicious and fragrant. However, its a difficult toss-up between their pumpkin curry and the pumpkin curry at…

Thai Taste (170 Farmers Ln # 8, Santa Rosa, 526-3888): Tops for the pumpkin curry, though there are mixed feelings in our house about their fresh rolls, which rather than the usual semi-transparent rice paper are more spongy in nature. But the peanut sauce, oh, the peanut sauce. But when it comes to soup, there’s nowhere better than…

California Thai (522 7th St, Santa Rosa, 573.1441) where you’ll find one of the  simplest, but most satisfying versions of Tom Ka Gai, a lemongrass, lime leaf, coconut milk soup. They’re also my go-to for Miang Kam, little tidbits of dried shrimp, peanuts, ginger you wrap in spinach leaves and top with palm sugar sauce.  Though there’ll always be a place in my heart for…

Jhanthong Banbua ( 2400 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707.528.8048): The long-time Santa Rosa Thai fave that fronts the seedy Gold Coin hotel on Mendocino Ave., is a JC-neighborhood standby.  I’ve continued to have on-again, off-again take-out experiences, but for my money, the world’s best late-night munchie snack is hands-down their shrimp chips with peanut sauce.. Which reminds me of a spot I always seem to forget about…

Banyan Tree (20 E Washington St., Petaluma, 778-8669): One of the few Thai restaurants that haven’t peanut-sauced themselves into a corner. Here, they’re offering up creative, even innovative takes on Thai cooking that go well beyond spring rolls and tom yum soup. Fisherman’s Garden Rolls: “Delicate rice paper rolled around green leaves, cucumbers, carrots, avocado, mint, crab meat and shrimp, served chilled with peanut sauce.” Um, yes, please. Or, the delicate finger-sized spring rolls and cream-cheese and chive filled won-tons that very literally melt in the mouth. Or the Chiangmai Noodles, with curried egg noodles, chicken, spring onions, shallots and little bites of vinegary pickles (beats the pants off Pad Thai). 20 E. Washington St., Golden Eagle Center, Petaluma, 778.8669.

Still hungry? There are plenty more Thai restaurants in my arsenal. Add your fave.

Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, BiteClubEats.com is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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24 Comments

  1. Tiny Thai in Cotati is very good!

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  3. Khoom lanna thai in RR square is the best one around. Really tasty and authentic. Their creative dishes aren’t bad either. Sea Thai food is too bland and americanized!

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  4. They increased my business loan payments drastically when interest rates went up – as per `flexible loan’ agreement. But have refused now for 12 months to reduce them when interest rates have been reduced.

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  5. After spending a few months in Thailand several years ago it ruined any appreciation I had for Thai food in California. It’s simply much different (and much, much better over there). Pad Thai is a great example — why is it orange and sweet and covered in peanuts in the States? Luckily, I wandered into Van Vieng Khan (3446 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 206-0884) last week. Wow. If you want the closest thing to real SE Asia then please check it out. And don’t be put off by the location (sandwiched between a hog dog stand and a tattoo parlor). It’s nice and clean and airy inside.

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  6. Another vote here for Nit’s in Guerneville. Excellent food, all fresh, fresh, fresher than fresh and creative. Service is typically very good. Not cheap but the value is outstanding. Beautiful views of the River too if you can score the deck or a window table….
    We’ve also had great experiences – and not so great – at Khoom Lana (RR Square). First time -not long after its opening – we were blown away by the soulful saucing, portion size and attentive service. The tab was significant for four with drinks and dessert but it was more than worth it and we all had luncheon-sized leftovers. Ditto two subsequent visits at 3-10 month intervals. More recently we swear that portions had been cut by 1/4 to 1/3, the flavors were less inspired/ing and the service pedestrian. Prices same – Won’t be back anytime soon.
    Sea Thai in Petaluma – brilliant! And pricey – be prepared….
    Agree with all the buzz about Lynn’s….our new day-day Thai fave when we’re within 15 miles of Cotati….
    Thx Heather for reviewing other spots. All noted and added to the “check it out” list!

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  7. Bangkok Villa in Santa Rosa has the best Thai and Laotian food in my humble opinion. Great food at great prices. I’m surprised this was not on the list.
    http://www.bangkok-villa.com/
    Check out Tomi behind Baskin Robins in Windsor. Same owner, same great food.

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  8. Anyone try Tiny Thai in Cotati, yet? Opened where Sally Tomoatoes was…

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  9. Great leads! I hope the newspaper puts an
    index together of restaurants with readers
    response, as that is important, especially to
    those of us who visit Sonoma County on a regular basis!!! And also recommend to friends
    who are visiting San Francisco and want to know where to go. Sonoma is #1 in my recommendatons!

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  10. Thai Taste near the Flamingo Hotel has been our favorite Thai Restaurant since they opened a few years ago. Alas, their Windsor location closed. The ingredients are fresh and the spices mouth watering. My wife’s personal favorite is fresh grilled veggies. It’s terrific. They only serve it at dinner. Some fine curry dishes and a wonderfully spicy papaya salad.

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  11. I second Lynn’s Thai in Cotati. My Thai cooking instructor at SRJC told us about it, proclaimed it the best in the county and I do agree … so very authentic, delicate and tasty — oh those Duck Spring Rolls, or Mushroom Rolls with Chili-Lime Sauce. Fabulous beef salad, green papaya salad oh yum. With Lynn and her husband cooking up a storm, this place is well worth the drive!!

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  12. As I’ve said a thousand times, but will reiterate for you…this is a blog…which I write really fast and with lots of typos. There is no editor or proofreader. That’s part of the charm. I do try to spell check, but i’d rather get the info out than fuss over it.
    I do appreciate it when folks point out my mistakes. And I try to go back and fix them (you’ll see if fixed Laotion to Laotian). That’s the beauty of online..
    My columns run every Sunday in the paper, which does have a proofreader and editor. Anal retentive people like you may prefer to read it there, without the typos.
    Go eat a prune, McNasty.

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  13. Who writes this stuff? It’s spelled Laotian, not “Laotion”. And it’s just bad form to place a caption talking about Pad Thai under a photo of a completely different dish. Can’t PD get a proofreader? I’ve been bugging them for years to be their proofreader, but they ignore me. I guess they’d rather have typos all the time and look like a third-rate paper.

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  14. I’ve been going to California Thai (7th St., between B and Mendocino) for almost 15 years. Great variety of vegetarian options, and many can be done McDougall-style. You have to ask for the separate vegetarian menu — no idea why they don’t put the menus together. Save room for the tapioca pudding — vegan, made with coconut and mint.

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  15. Lynn’s Thai, in the small shopping center on the southwest side of 116 where it goes under 101: great food, friendly staff, HUGE portions!

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  16. My new fave is Tomi Thai on the Windsor Towne Green. Get small intimate dining experience. Service was wonderful!

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  17. Don’t miss Thai Time Asian Bistro in Cloverdale! It’s now owned by a former cook there and features creative, fresh recipes among lovely artwork done by another cook. It’s across the street from the theater on First Street.

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  18. Sukothai in culinary anemic Rohnert Park is excellent. Great food attentive service, and modest prices. The interior is beautifully put together for such an unassuming business front, Sukothai is located in the Safeway shopping center on Commerce Blvd.

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  19. NIT’s food is amazing!!! The affordablity makes up for the lack of service.

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  20. Sounds like I need an excuse to get to Larkfield and try Baan Thai.
    Khoom Lanna on RR Square is my new fave. A little pricey for dinner but reasonable and wonderful for lunch.
    Love Sea Thai. Also a little pricey, but worth it, and traditional stuff like pad thai is fairly cheap.
    Note that the service at Motel Thai seems to be much less cranky of late.
    The people are nice and I like the location so I want to like Thai Taste but the food we’ve had there has been so-so.
    One to avoid – Mekong at Mission and 12 – last time we tried pad thai there the noodles were totally stuck together like it was last night’s leftovers, and the whole thing tasted off. We tossed it.

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  21. Halibut with green curry sauce on the deck overlooking the river at Nit’s Thai Creations east of Guernville is as good as it gets.

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  22. Orchid Thai, San Anselmo, is tops.

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