1187 Coast Village Road
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. weekdays; 5-9 p.m. daily
Hed: Thai, the sequel
With the phenomenal success of Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar at the Santa Barbara Public Market, Chef Nui Pannak, Jerry Lee and Emre Balli headed east, to Coast Village Road, to open their second Thai restaurant, Khao Kaeng.
Located on the lower level of Coast Village Plaza, home also to an architect, a UPS Store and a barber shop among others, Khao Kaeng puts out big flavors in a tiny space.
How tiny? On-top-of-your-neighbor tiny. The Fork observed a woman move twice just to get away from the people at the next table.
“It’s not you,” she said in typical break-up fashion. “It’s me.”
Like Empty Bowl, the new eatery, whose name translates to “curry on rice,” is a nod to the family recipes of the chef’s native Bangkok, but with a menu that goes far beyond noodles, broth and whatever else you can empty from one of their big bowls.
You don’t have to be experiencing one to enjoy the Hangover Noodle ($18), served with an abundance of flat, wide rice noodles. It delivers on all the Thai greens and seasonings without being too spicy.
The Fork decided against organic tofu or jidori free-range chicken, adding shrimp for an extra $4, and was thrilled to see not a vein in the plump bunch.
The tails, oddly enough, were still there.
Larb Mushrooms is a $15 lunch dish featuring Bunashimeji, king trumpet and shiitake varieties. Topped off with dry chili threads that resemble spun red sugar, this is one spicy affair.
Cilantrotarians will especially appreciate this vegetarian dish.
This utensil, steely as it is, appreciated the dried chili on the menu warning of spicy curves ahead.
Thoroughly satisfying and a great entry for people not completely familiar with Thai food is Khao Kaeng’s Pad Thai Khao San Road ($17). Your choice of jidori chicken or organic tofu (with shrimp another $4) comes with traditional stir-fried thin rice noodles, organic egg, bean sprouts, chopped peanuts and other delights. It’s sweet, with just a hint of heat from the house-made sauce.
Chef Pannak’s menu will take you as far into Thai cuisine as you want to go, while offering stepping stones for the timid.
All in all, Khao Kaeng is a sequel that does the original deliciously well.
High Points: Traditional Thai. Fast service. Fresh ingredients, some that’s farmers-market-sourced.
Low Points: Get ready for a tight squeeze inside. You may get to know the people at the next table whether you like it or not.
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Plump, deveined shrimp is a worthwhile $4 addition to Khao Kaeng’s Hangover Noodle.
The sweet Pad Thai Khao San Road is a great way to get the kids to eat their bean sprouts.
(red chili on top)
A trio of fungi makes the Larb Mushrooms texturally interesting.