The restaurant's name literally translates to "eat rice" but colloquially means "let's eat!"

The restaurant’s name literally translates to “eat rice” but colloquially means “let’s eat!”

The Story: Pioneering food blogger Chez Pim aka Pim Techamuanvivit wanted to bring the food of her birthplace to her adopted home of the San Francisco Bay Area, opening the ambitious Kin Khao Thai Eatery in the Parc 55 Hotel in the city’s touristy Union Square.

Why I went: Apparently, I’m the last blogger to visit and rave about this contemporary yet traditional homage to real Thai food, emphasizing freshness and balanced flavors. I recruited another blogger who had yet to eat here (Christine of East Bay Dish) and together we dined on a recent weeknight.

The vibe: Hip, modern and sleek, the decor is chic but warm, with little details giving hint of Bangkok or Techamuanvivit’s love for travel. A large bar and large communal table feed into the name of the restaurant, which is a Thai saying for “let’s eat” (but literal translates to “eat rice”).

Named after a soup dish, the Tom Yum is made with gin and an array of citrusy Thai flavors. $12

Named after a soup dish, the Tom Yum is made with gin and an array of citrusy Thai flavors. $12

The booze: Probably the most sophisticated bar menu for any Thai restaurant in the area, the cocktail program is inspired by Thai dishes, such as the Tom Yum that I ordered. It’s not the traditional Thai soup dish as noted on the menu, but Tanqueray Gin with vermouth, lime, galangal, lemongrass, and abbots bitters. While creative on paper, the drinks don’t taste much different than what you can get at almost any fancy bar in Union Square.

The menu: While Techamuanvivit provided the vision, the execution of the dishes is spearheaded by Chef Michael Gaines, who once cooked at Manresa. (No surprise since Techamuanvivit’s significant other is Manresa chef David Kinch.) The young menu has already gotten some signature dishes, such as the braised beef cheek curry and the fire-hot dry-fried pork riblets. Some dishes change to take advantage of seasonal ingredients, and the variety provided a pleasing alternative to the pages of curries, stir-fries, and noodles typically found at most other Thai restaurants.

My favorite dish: A new item on the menu was also my favorite of the night. No surprise that it was the caramelized pork belly, sweet and savory, perfectly cooked and served in a claypot. Reminiscent of Vietnamese cuisine, it was a satisfying starter dish for $13.

Best way to get to Kin Khao is heading to the opposite end of Parc 55 Hotel to the corner of Mason and Ellis.

Best way to get to Kin Khao is heading to the opposite end of Parc 55 Hotel to the corner of Mason and Ellis.

Insider tip: The restaurant’s address can throw you off since it’s the address for the Parc 55 hotel. But you can easily walk right into the restaurant by going to the corner of Mason and Ellis Streets.

The last bite: I had never been a Thai food fan, mostly because many of the dishes I ate at local restaurants had too much sauce or watery curries. Kin Khao lives up to its promise of providing quality Thai food with a variety to open one’s eyes to what Thai food can be.

The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps

3-snaps

 

 

The deets: Kin Khao Thai Eatery, 55 Cyril Magnin, San Francisco. PH: 415.362.7456. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations and major credit cards accepted. kinkhao.com

Kin Khao on Urbanspoon

Large wooden communal table anchors the main dining area, decorated with chic prints

Large wooden communal table anchors the main dining area, decorated with chic prints

Christine tried the Samunprai Julep made with whisky. It comes to the table with a pile of crushed ice of top. $12

Christine tried the Samunprai Julep made with whisky. It comes to the table with a pile of crushed ice on top. $12

Plam Pla Muek ($14) is a refreshing plate of charred Monterey Bay squid served with a simply tangy seafood sauce.

Plam Pla Muek ($14) is a refreshing plate of charred Monterey Bay squid served with a simply tangy seafood sauce.

Peanuts on the side. Christine is not a fan of peanuts, and luckily many of the dishes at Kin Khao don't fall for the trap of sprinkling peanut or using peanut sauce in everything. These went as a sprinkling for the squid dish.

Peanuts on the side. Christine is not a fan of peanuts, and luckily many of the dishes at Kin Khao don’t fall for the trap of sprinkling peanut or using peanut sauce in everything. These went as a sprinkling for the squid dish.

We sat near a rack filled with postcards.

We sat near a rack filled with Thai-themed postcards.

Caramelized Pork Belly ($13) is served in a claypot and is simply dressed in a sweet savory soy sauce.

Caramelized Pork Belly ($13) is served in a claypot and is simply dressed in a sweet savory soy sauce.

The counter area is accented with steamer baskets along the top.

The counter area is accented with lunch basket containers along the top.

A new noodle dish we tried is called Khao Soi Gai ($15), which is egg noodles in a Northern-style chicken curry broth. I was intrigued by the menu listing pickled vegetables but turned out they were only served on the side. The bowl comes with a dramatic pile of fried noodles on top as a garnish.

A new noodle dish we tried is called Khao Soi Gai ($15), which is egg noodles in a Northern-style chicken curry broth. I was intrigued by the menu listing pickled vegetables but turned out they were only served on the side. The bowl comes with a dramatic pile of fried noodles on top as a garnish.

Our soup noodle Khao Soi Gai came with a sides of red onions, lime, pickled vegetables and a dangerous looking chili pepper, which Christine and I both chose not to add to the soup.

Our soup noodle Khao Soi Gai came with a sides of red onions, lime, pickled vegetables and a dangerous looking chili pepper, which Christine and I both chose not to add to the soup.

Serving up blistered green beans in XO sauce ($10).

Serving up blistered green beans in XO sauce ($10).

I love Thai iced tea and couldn't resist ordering one. Kin Khao's version was nice but not the No. 1 (as noted on the menu) in town. I've had just as good at other spots.

I love Thai iced tea and couldn’t resist ordering one. Kin Khao’s version was nice but not the No. 1 (as noted on the menu) in town. I’ve had just as good at other spots.

 

9 Responses to Redefining Thai Food with a Review of Kin Khao in San Francisco

  1. Tara says:

    I wish they had the XO green beans when I went! Those might be worth the trip…two of my favorite things in in one dish.

    My eating partner had the same thoughts as you- good drinks but nothing special. Next time you have to get the beef curry dish. I forgot what it’s called but it doesn’t taste like a traditional curry. It was the best thing I ate last month!

    • Ben Ben says:

      Tara, I remember you writing about the beef curry dish, but Christine and I zeroed in on the pork belly so we decided that would be enough meat for us. BTW, while the green beans was a nice addition, I felt I could get just as good from Shanghai Dumpling King.

  2. Carolyn Jung says:

    Oh man, I gotta try the pork belly next time. That looks so tempting. I really enjoyed my dinner there, even if the ribs were so fiery I could probably eat only one. ;)

  3. Brenda Ton says:

    Beautiful photos, Ben! You captured the essence of Kin Khao nicely. I loved this place and cannot wait to go back. The next time you go here, try their alcoholic version of the thai tea (I assume you ordered regular) – it is peculiar but super tasty and memorable.

    • Ben Ben says:

      I think I saw that on the cocktail menu, but I just love the regular Thai iced tea so much because of the sweetened condensed milk. But I might try that adult version just to see what it’s like. ;-)

  4. foodhoe says:

    ooh, the pork belly looks yummy! I loved this place too Nerb! How was the Kao Soi? I tried it in Chiang Mai and loved it, haven’t found a good version yet, was it any good?

    • Ben Ben says:

      The Kao Soi gai was actually my least favorite of all the dishes, not because it was bad or anything, it just lacked oomph, and they did go crazy with the garnish piled high of fried noodles. The curry broth was nice and light and I wanted more of the pickled vegetables to toss in an mix with everything. But of course, I’m no expert on Kao Soi. What is it like in Thailand?

  5. Phoebe says:

    Truly some of the best Thai food I’ve had outside of Bangkok… Yet the service was absolutely horrendous- so unfortunate… My advice: get the food to go and never sit at the bar. The Rabbit curry is scrumptious enough to overlook the poor service.

    • Ben Ben says:

      That’s too bad you had bad service. The last time I ate there, I actually walked in and ate at the bar and the service was fine. Maybe it’s just one particular server?

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