Thai cuisine is the new Chinese takeout. Well, maybe not so new, as many dishes have become as Americanized as General Tso’s Chicken, but there’s always a spot in our heart for the fresh, bright flavors of galangal, tamarind, lemongrass, lime and a hint of briny fish sauce.
We’ve tried just about all of the Thai restaurants in Sonoma County and found that not all are created equal. What stands out are the dishes that don’t take shortcuts (you know who you are ketchup Pad Thai makers) and make the effort to use authentic spices, palm sugar and Makrut (a perfumed Asian lime).
Tiny Thai, Cotati
Nestled between a hair salon and Redwood Cafe, it’s barely a blip between the bars, restaurants and…more bars on Cotati’s main street. Fortunately, Tiny Thai is also a great spot to cure your hangover with some Drunken Noodles. Excellent Pad Thai (one of my very favorites) plus hard-to-find items like fish cakes and fried taro root rolls. Pumpkin curry with its creamy coconut milk sauce studded with bits of pumpkin won’t disappoint. 8238 Old Redwood Hwy, Cotati, 707-794-9404.
Spring Thai, Cotati and Petaluma
A straw wrapper twisted into a rosebud is the first hint that visuals are a priority here. Dishes are elaborately plated with flowers and edible greenery — something that’s lost in translation with delivery. With entertaining menu items like batter-dipped spinach, a starter parade of appetizers worthy of tooting about, fried spinach salad — healthy! crispy! — is a revelation. Spring Thai’s passion for the exotic cuisine of southeast Asia is clear. With a lattice of egg holding it together, their clever version of the Thai standby is a compact football of noodles with plenty of flavor. 538 E. Cotati Ave., Cotati, 707-665-5180. Also at 1410 S McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, 707-774-6246.
Lynn’s Thai, Cotati
Fragrant and delicate dishes with balance rather than leaning too hard on fish sauce or lime juice to pump up flavors. We first fell in love with Lynn’s cooking in 2008 and it's stood the test of time. A simple green papaya salad sings rather than clobbers you on the head with its sour crunch and Panang curry is heavenly. Don’t miss the Tom Kha, a coconut milk soup with galangal, kaffir lime, lemongrass and mushrooms, and save room for black sticky rice with condensed milk and fresh mango. Though it may seem like a small detail, to-go orders are packaged with care so they stay tasty all the way home rather than spilling all over your seats. 8492 Gravenstein Hwy, Suite M, Cotati, 707-793-9300.
Baan Thai, Santa Rosa
Hidden in Larkfield’s Molsberry’s shopping center, this pint-sized eatery gets high marks to their peanut sauce, which enhances the food rather than launching an all-out peanut assault. Solid 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. 424 Larkfield Center, Santa Rosa, 707-576-8621.
Sea Thai Bistro, Santa Rosa
Refined, Thai-fusion dishes that marry Thai flavors with California influences. We’re bonkers for dishes like Street Fair Noodles — a sort of smokey, BBQ version of Pad Thai, and red pumpkin curry that’s rich, delicious and fragrant. Don’t miss the spicy green papaya salad and super noshy Little Basket with crispy egg noodles and veggies wrapped in lettuce. 2350 Midway drive in Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, 707-528-8333.
Jhanthong Banbua, Santa Rosa
The long-time Santa Rosa Thai fave you’ll pick out by its bright purple color (and the seedy hotel behind it). A JC-neighborhood standby with a huge menu and lots of excellent curries, pad Thai, noodles, and rice plates. Can be a bit inconsistent, but overall a great pick. 2400 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-528-8048.
Khom Loi, Sebastopol
A spectacular spin on Thai cuisine from the owners of Ramen Gaijin. Rather than soupy, ketchup-y Americanized dishes, you’ll get plenty of heat, fragrance and ka-pow flavor from every dish. Diners are encouraged to have fun and play a little — using your fingers is encouraged! Lemongrass fried chicken with fried lime leaves will leave you perfumed. Here, unripe papaya is a crunchy carrier for the tart-sweet lime fish sauce I could literally drink with a straw. You can’t go wrong with anything. 7385 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, 707-329-6917
Jam’s Joy Bungalow, Sebastopol
Not strictly Thai, but the ever-changing menu of this teensy walkup in Sebastopol has some of the best Southeast Asian street food (with some NorCal sass) ever. Ever! If Jok (Thai rice porridge) is on the menu you’re in for a treat. Just throw the dice on whatever Chef Jamilah is cooking and you’ll end up a winner. The bright pink and yellow food truck makes the rounds throughout the county, so be on the lookout. 150 Weeks Way, Sebastopol, 707-843-9001.
Tomi Thai, Windsor
Favorite of Windsor residents, this tiny Town Green spot has a menu packed with flavor. Mild yellow curry with potatoes and chicken and fresh rolls studded with mint both satisfy. Fusion dishes with a California spin, like the Crying Tiger — marinated rib eye with cilantro garlic sauce — are crowdpleasers. 26 Emily Rose Circle, Windsor, 707-836-1422.
Thai Orchid, Healdsburg
Thai worthy of Healdsburg’s picky gourmands. Start with fish cakes and Mieng Kuem, lettuce wraps with tamarind sauce, peanuts, dried shrimp and coconut, to get your tastebuds rolling. Kang Phed Ped, a spicy red curry with roast duck, pineapple, and vegetables, is noteworthy. 1005 Vine St., Healdsburg, 707-433-0515.
By: Heather Irwin