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Thai House Express

October 18, 2006

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If you’ve read any of our other reviews, you know that we do not freely throw around high 4-star ratings, but if you’ve scroll down to the bottom of this review, you’ll see it here. You may be wondering how it is that a restaurant — with the commonplace, unassuming name of Thai House Express, and which, (if only based on the above image) appears on the outside to be just another Tenderloin Thai restaurant — managed to receive a high rating of 4 stars.

Because Thai House Express is the best Thai restaurant in the Bay Area, that’s how.

There: we said it. Not just the best Thai restaurant in the San Francisco city limit. The best Thai restaurant in the whole Bay Area.

No doubt this will cause a stir among those who are fiercely proud of their favorite neighborhood Thai restaurant, and perhaps even cause a spark of anger. Perhaps this announcement is a risky move. After all, every corner of the Bay Area is literally crawling with Thai restaurants. Is it really fair, or even possible, to name just one of those as the best? Perhaps not, but in this case, we’ll throw caution to the wind. Why? Because Thai House Express is just that good. Short Exact has visited Thai House Express more times than we can count, but we have yet to leave less than satisfied. This is not to say that every single visit has been a revelation, but some sure have been. Other visits have been merely very good. Nonetheless, they are able to maintain consistent quality, even though their menu has over 100 items, not including additional specials written in Thai on the white board that are not on the regular menu.

Yes, you could always order the pad thai. But why order the ubiquitous pad thai, when Thai House Express has an array of special dishes and authentic Thai specialties that cannot be found at other restaurants? If you are a lover of pad thai, but are in search of a more interesting dish, consider ordering the special chan pad poo. It is similar to, but still noticeably different from, pad thai: it features crab and is spicily delicious — really a superb entree. One of Short Exact’s favorite renditions of the classic som tum thai (shredded green papaya salad) can be found at Thai House Express, in addition to other delicious salads such as the soop nor mai (bamboo shoot salad) and the yum pla muk (squid salad). The menu also features an array of soups, noodle dishes, curries, and rice plates. While it is great to experience these classic items done well, you also won’t want to miss out on the specialty items. The specialty items are really what set Thai House Express apart from the other (approximately) 5,489 Thai restaurants in San Francisco, and the restaurant really shines in its preparations of these dishes.

On our most recent visit to Thai House Express, Short Exact was with a relatively unadventurous friend, so we ended up ordering two dishes from the regular menu, that were quite good, even if they do not show off the more unique aspects of the restaurant. We had the gang khew wan,

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which is the green chicken curry. In addition, we ordered pad kee mao,

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which are the pan fried noodles with shrimp, Chinese broccoli, basil, and onion. Both entrees were prepared nicely: good ingredients, generous portions of fresh chicken and shrimp, and tasty, perfectly cooked al dente vegetables. Both dishes exhibited clean, bright, and very well balanced flavors. Many more Americanized Thai restaurants use a remarkably limited palette of flavors, and dishes at such restaurants usually end up being overly sweet. Thai House Express, however, is not afraid to use a wide palette of flavors, including contrasting flavors and textures that are boldly and smartly integrated to create some thrillingly delicious effects.

By the way, in case you were wondering why the word “Express” appears in their name: one can order take-out, but they have a nicer-than-expected sit-down area. Even when ordering dishes in the restaurant, though, they mean “express.” On our last visit, for instance, our entrees arrived all of 4 minutes after putting in the order. (Yes, we timed it.) This makes Thai House Express a great choice for pre-show dining, not only because of its proximity to both the Geary theaters and the Civic Center concert halls, but also because the lightning quick service will help you make the show on time. Its convenient location makes it a great place to drop in on regularly when you’re in the area, but even if you are not in the area, it really is worth the trip.

There is one quirk of Thai House Express to keep in mind, which isn’t really so much a quirk, especially if you’ve visited other authentic restaurants showcasing the cuisine of a certain country; the quirk is especially pronounced when that restaurant is frequented by natives of that country. The “quirk” we’re referring to is a sort of “racism” with respect to the extent Caucasian people can handle spices and heat. The assumption here that Thai House Express makes is that no white person can handle heat as well as a Thai person can. In some sense, they are probably right, but Short Exact is a big fan of chili action, and so at first, we were a bit irked by having to argue with the server on the point of heat. When we’ve ordered a more traditional, highly spicy dish, the server has often questioned our decision, wondering if we really are able to take it or not. Sometimes, they will just ignore your heat preference, and prepare the dish with the level of heat they guess you can take. It helps if you specify that you want your order as “Thai hot” (rather than just “hot”, since, if you are Caucasian, they will assume this means “American hot”, which is necessarily less than “Thai hot”), though sometimes even a “Thai hot” indication is also ignored. If you are also a fan of extensive and thorough heat, we recommend that you simply make yourself a repeat customer. If you repeatedly visit and express your preference, you have plenty of opportunities to make clear your intentions, and in time, they will come to believe you.

Based on our above comments, in which we mention that the servers sometimes argue you with you on the level of heat you can handle, it probably is clear that service is not the strong point here. Of course, the food is delivered very quickly, but the service is not always attentive after the main dish is delivered. It’s really all about the food, though. The food here is unique and delicious, so that we are never too bothered by inconsistencies or slips in service. On the outside, Thai House Express may just look like another joint in the seemingly endless line of nondescript San Francisco Thai restaurants, but once you step through the doors, you will be taking a trip to Bangkok, without the air fare. Don’t pass it up: it really is a treasure.

RATING:

COST:

901 Larkin Street (at Geary St.)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone: 415.441.2248
Hours: Daily, 12:00 noon – 12:00 midnight.

Cuisine: Thai
Neighborhood: Tenderloin

How to get there: Thai House Express is located directly on Muni lines 19 and 38, and is easy walking distance from lines 2, 3, 4, 27, 31, 47, 49, and 76.

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One comment

  1. Yep, Thai House Express has some of the tom kha gai soup I’ve had. In the dishes I’ve had, sugar is used judiciously, and doesn’t overpower. It’s one of the few places I can actually enjoy eating Thai food.



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