Tom Kha: coconut broth, ripe vegetables, skinny rice noodles, and chicken breast
It was not long ago I wrote about a hot-sandwich shop working out of the back of a Golden Hill corner store and how I thought the succession of doomed, sloppy businesses back there had come to an end. I was wrong. A reader of that story left a comment claiming the partners in that shop had a falling out. All I can say for sure is their hours became unpredictable, and 26th Kitchen & Carry seemed to be closed more often than open before it quit for good.
The back of that shop sat empty for a while, but now it’s back in business, and again I’m bullish.
The vegetables are where 55 Thai Kitchen deviates from the norm.
55 Thai Kitchen didn’t just come in and shove cookware into that small, ramshackle space, it rehabbed the whole thing into an economical, professional kitchen. Their website explains that owner and chef Jit Pipatkhajonchai opened his first restaurant in Bangkok at 19. This is his ninth effort, a quarter century later. (Another is J&T Thai Street Food in Linda Vista.)
This spot puts together a trimmed-down menu of familiar Thai curries, noodle stir-fries, and soup made from scratch, including the massaman curry. Also, like most Thai restaurants, dishes are offered with a choice of protein ranging from tofu to beef. And you can add vegetables.
The vegetables are where 55 Thai Kitchen starts to deviate from the norm. These are the not limp, broken down in the stir-fry sort of veggies of your run-of-the-mill back-of-the-bodega street-Thai spot. The broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, and cabbage you get here are ripe produce, par cooked so they still taste fresh.
2601 Broadway, San Diego
Even steeped in the tangy coconut and lemongrass broth of skinny Tom Kha noodles, the cucumber remained cool and crisp inside. The other vegetables were cooked just enough to be more tender than raw. The chicken seemed better than factory farmed; it tasted clean.
I’ve got a geographical bias, because this now counts as the closest Thai spot to my house and sells tasty, nutritious food in solid portions for eight bucks an entrée. So while I might prefer wider rice noodles to pair better with the other, larger bite-size ingredients, it won’t stop me from picking something up some busy night. I hope this one outlasts its predecessor.