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Ben Thai Cafe
Photograph: Yelp/Claire W

The best Thai food in San Francisco

The best spicy, sour, and lime-spiked Thai food in San Francisco to perk up your palette

By Lauren Sheber

San Francisco is a hotbed for Thai food, from buzzy Michelin-starred restaurants and food trucks to authentic, family-run mainstays. The Tenderloin is the best neighborhood to find the latter, from the original Lers Ros (a local Thai legend) to Thai Idea and House of Thai. For more modernized takes on traditional fare, head to these new restaurants in the Mission, where spots like Farmhouse Kitchen and Hawker Fare are whipping up innovative spins on the classics in party-like settings. Whatever your style, San Francisco Thai food ventures far beyond pad thai and green curry. 

RECOMMENDED: The best restaurants in San Francisco

Thai restaurants in San Francisco

Kin Khao
Photograph: Yelp/Elaine H

1. Kin Khao

5 out of 5 stars
Restaurants Thai Tenderloin

The ambiance is colorful and informal at this Michelin-starred Thai restaurant, from the decor to the bold curries. Kin Khao—which translates to “eat rice”—is the passion project of chef Pim Techamuanvivit, who was born and raised in Bangkok. (Her stated mission: “To liberate her beloved Thai cuisine from the tyranny of peanut sauce.”) All Techamuanvivit’s produce, mushrooms, meat, and seafood is sourced from local Northern California purveyors, from Half Moon Bay to Napa. The menu is separated into bites, meats, seafood, greens, and curries. The dishes are shareable and generously spiced, from the “Pretty Hot Wings” glazed with fish sauce, garlic marinade, tamarind, and Sriracha to the dry-fried Duroc pork ribs in a turmeric curry paste. Don’t miss Kin Khao’s modern spin on curries, like the rabbit green curry or the mackerel gaeng som sour curry.

Marnee Thai
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/ Kris Vera-Phillips

2. Marnee Thai

3 out of 5 stars
Restaurants Thai Outer Sunset

Chef Chai Siriyarn opened the first Marnee Thai in 1986, well before Thai food became the takeout staple it is today. Siriyam grew up in Bangkok and learned how to cook from his mother; her influence is evident in the traditional flavors and bold spices of his dishes. Today, Siryam’s two restaurants—one in the Inner Sunset, the other in the Outer Sunset—specialize in aromatic, tongue-tingling dishes from Central Thailand. Specialties include the kao soi chicken and mussamun chicken curry.

Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine
Photograph: Yelp/Julia L

3. Farmhouse Kitchen

Restaurants Thai Mission

This inviting Mission restaurant has a festive vibe, from the vibrant decor—brightly-colored accents, glinting penny tiles, hanging plants—to the upbeat soundtrack. Even the food is vivid: The popular fried chicken is served alongside blue rice (colored by the blue pea flower) and yellow potato curry. Co-owners Ling Chatterjee and husband Kasem “Pop” Saengsawang are the same duo behind Kitchen Story in the Castro and Blackwood in the Marina. Of the three, this spot serves the most authentic—and wholly Thai—fare. The pair focuses on high-quality ingredients, from Mary’s organic chicken to cage-free eggs and locally-sourced produce. The beef short rib, braised until it falls off the bone and slathered in Panang curry, is a stand-out.

Lers Ros
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/ Jeremy Brooks

4. Lers Ros

3 out of 5 stars
Restaurants Thai Tenderloin

Lers Ros has been Thai food mainstay since chef-owner Tom Narupon Silargorn opened his original location in the Tenderloin in 2008. He’s since expanded his scope to oversee three modern, stylishly-appointed Lers Ros outposts in the city. A native of Thailand, Silagorn is known for serving authentic, unapologetically spicy dishes. (You won’t find sugary-sweet curries or limp pad thai here; even the chile paste is made in-house.) Opt for hearty, flavorful dishes like the pork ribs, nuer tod (fried, dried beef), and bone-in fried eel.

Esan Classic
Photograph: Yelp/Alan T

5. Esan Classic

Restaurants Thai Tenderloin

After opening three Lers Ros restaurants throughout the city, owner Tom Silagorn introduced this sleekly decorated Tenderloin spin-off as an homage to Northeastern Thai cuisine. The difference? The food—spicy, sour, and deliciously funky—is not for the faint of heart. Silagorn traveled throughout Thailand’s Esan region with co-chef Chanon Hutasingh to develop the wide-ranging menu, which spans more than 100 dishes and borrows liberally from nearby Cambodia and Laos. The selection spans curries, pan-fried noodles, stir-fries, vegetables, seafoods, and meal-sized soups. The latter is a house specialty: broths and stocks are flavored with fresh chiles, galangal, and a heaping array of spices.

Thai Idea Vegetarian
Photograph: Yelp/David D

6. Thai Idea Vegetarian

Restaurants Thai Tenderloin

Vegetarians and vegans rejoice: This popular Thai restaurant is entirely meat- (and fish sauce) free. The space is casual, but comfortable, with dark wood booths and dim lighting. Though the menu focuses on vegetables, there are also plenty of meatless substitutes for chicken, shrimp, catfish, duch, lamb, and beef. The faux-meat skewers, samosas, and “wing bombs” (deep-fried veggie-chicken wings) are popular appetizers, while the curries—from pumpkin to fish-free-”seafood”—are recommended mains.

House of Thai
Photograph: Yelp/Adam S

7. House of Thai

Restaurants Thai Civic Center

House of Thai has been serving classic, unpretentious food for nearly two decades. Shunning Americanized Thai fare, the menu is spicy and wide-ranging, from curries to noodle dishes to rice plates. Start with specialties like the ka moo (a fiery pork-leg stew), the moo grob gra praw (sauteed pork belly flavored with chili, onion, peppers, and basil), or the deep-fried catfish. The latter comes topped with shiitake mushrooms, carrots, onions, peppers, and ginger and is doused in a house-made plum sauce.

Hawker Fare
Photograph: Yelp/Amy Y

8. Hawker Fare

Restaurants Thai Mission Dolores

Chef James Syhabout is perhaps best known for Commis, his Michelin-starred prix fixe restaurant in Oakland. But this colorful, casual Lao Issan restaurant is his passion project, serving recipes inspired by his mother’s cooking. The dishes are sour, spicy, and salty, from blistered green beans tossed with curry paste and smoked bacon to the Isaan BBQ chicken, which is brined for 24 hours, rubbed with lemongrass and turmeric, and served alongside chili garlic and tart tamarind dipping sauces.

Ben Thai Cafe
Photograph: Yelp/Claire W

9. Ben Thai Cafe

Restaurants Thai Lower Nob Hill

This food at this Nob Hill cafe seamlessly melds traditional Thai, Chinese, and Indonesian influences in inventive flavor combinations. (The brother-sister co-owners borrowed many of the complex recipes from their Thai parents.) The menu spans sauteed dishes, seafood, wok-tossed noodles, and curries from all over the map. There’s an American-Thai inspired oxtail soup stewed with carrot, tomato, and cabbage; a Northern Thai khao soi (egg noodles, chicken, and crispy pork skin in a red and yellow coconut curry), and a Chinese-Thai-influenced roasted duck soup packed with hearty, fatty strips of meat and thick, chewy noodles. Start with the crispy crab pancake, which is served alongside a pungent vinegar dipping sauce.

Photograph: Yelp/Elizabeth C

10. Blackwood

Restaurants Thai Marina District

This Marina restaurant serves unabashedly American-Thai cuisine. Authentic, it’s not. But it is some seriously delicious fusion fare. The vibe is stylish and upscale, from the pillow-laden banquettes to the fireside tables out front. The menu gives traditional favorites, like pad thai, fried rice, and egg rolls, a modern twist. It also delivers some unexpected options, like the “fried chick,” a crackly fried chicken breast served with yellow curry, and a Thai-inspired burger topped with asparagus, bell peppers, heart of palm, basil, khao jee, and green curry sauce. Wash it down with a selection from the impressive beer and sake list.


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