Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 18th
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Keeping it Real

dining realthaikitchenReal Thai Kitchen updates both its look and its menu

The Seabright neighborhood’s Real Thai Kitchen, which is on my short list of Thai restaurants, has seen three owners in a year and a half. The current proprietor Ratana Bowden has made some changes, one of which is fortunately not the chef, who has dazzled me with her dishes since my first visit. There is, however, a new menu and interior.


The booths and the archway in the middle of the restaurant are gone, leaving one good modern dining area with neat rows of tables. The interestingly textured walls colored taupe, mocha and chocolate are hung with abstract cold wax paintings by Christine Donovan. A modicum of Thai cultural pieces remains near the kitchen door, where the previous takeout desk has been replaced with a lunch counter.

During a weekday lunch, you can order from the menu, enjoy a big bowl of Thai noodle soup ($6.95) or help yourself to the all-you-can-eat buffet ($8.95). Eight chafing compartments kept foods warm, while a table held salad greens, slices of fruit, and both white and brown rice. Sweet Chili Sauce waited to accompany the tempura vegetables.

There was flavorful sweet peanut dressing for the iceberg and carrot salad. Kaffir lime tree leaves floated in the slightly sour Tom Kha coconut milk soup with tofu, chili flakes, and a medley of seasonal vegetables. My favorite, the green chicken curry, featured the frilly-outlined slices of conical whole bamboo shoots with multi-colored bell peppers. Spicy Basil chicken was stir-fried with decoratively edged slices of carrot, and matchsticks of fresh ginger. Fresh pineapple joined cashews and raisins in the fried rice.

The new menu retains most of its original favorites which include healthful Tom Yum Gai, a spicy, hot and sour broth-based soup. The small size ($3.95) was warm and filling, served in a large cereal-sized bowl with straw mushrooms and fresh cremino mushrooms, tomatoes and shaved chicken breast.

I haven’t met a salad I didn’t like at Real Thai Kitchen. One side of the plate Grilled Beef Salad ($9.45) held thin slices of meat, the other crisp hearts of romaine lettuce with shredded carrot, fresh mint leaves, red and green onion, and decoratively cut cucumbers. The house’s sour lime dressing was gentle and complimentary.

I chose pork for the Spicy Basil Pad Kraprao ($9.45) which was stir-fried with a plethora of colorful, lightly cooked vegetables.

By the time you read this, the Kitchen should have transitioned to the modified menu, which includes more than a dozen new recipes. Spicy choices are still marked with a chili pepper, but there are also avatar asterisks for chef-recommended and family recipes.

Most of the noodle, rice, curry and sautéed dishes include choice of chicken, beef, pork and tofu with a surcharge for shrimp ($3). A number of dishes still include duck. Each item on the takeout menu is numbered to simplify ordering, and free delivery is available within a four-mile radius on orders of $25 or more.

The ground Fish Cakes ($8.95) had a bit of chili bite but I wouldn’t order them again. The four thin, palm-sized pancakes, with a chewy texture akin to sautéed mushrooms, were accompanied by a delicious cucumber and red onion relish with chopped peanuts that was sweet and vinegary and cleansed the palate nicely.

Four attractive Chu Mai ($7.25), the steamed, open-faced dumplings, were stuffed with finely minced chicken, crab, shrimp and mushrooms. Chili seeds floated atop the tart “real Thai black sauce,” which kicked the flavor up a notch over plain soy sauce.

One of the new salads is whimsically called Trout in the Jungle ($14.95). A battered and fried fillet of skin-on trout lay buried in greens, red onion, cilantro, basil, mint, finely shredded apples and whole cashews. The blend of fresh herbs was refreshing, and the Thai spicy dressing with cilantro, garlic and slivers of fresh chilies delightfully set my tongue afire. Those less adoring of heat should ask for the house’s sour lime dressing.dining realthai

The new Tangerine Chicken ($9.45) was a non-spicy option. Chicken nuggets were battered and deep-fried for a crunchy and chewy texture, then lightly tossed with thin, sour tangerine syrup and sweet-tart bites of unpeeled oranges.

There are a few new vegetarian tofu dishes including the family stir-fry recipe Good Company with vegetables in the house sauce, Sweet and Sour tofu with pineapple, onion and bell pepper, and Fried Tofu with steamed vegetables in a gentle peanut sauce.

New curry dishes include Pumpkin ($12.95) with chicken, shrimp and red curry, and Massaman ($9.45) which is a yellow curry of Muslim Thai origin, with potato, tomato, onion, and peanuts.

A whole section of Thai Noodle Soups has been added. Most include choice of protein with rice noodles, bean sprouts, cabbage, green onions and crisp garlic at both lunch ($6.95 to $9.95) and dinner ($8.95 to 12.95). Noodle soups are also available in hot and sour Tom Yum or coconut-based Tom Kha broths.  

Real Thai Kitchen, 1632 Seabright Ave. (behind Ace Hardware), Santa Cruz, 427-2559. Beer and wine. Serving weekday lunch and lunch buffet from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., and dinner from 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. On weekends, open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.

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