A family style spread picked up from Thai Joint
It sits within an inconspicuous stucco strip on Adams Avenue, smack in the middle of Normal Heights, with a generic sign bearing a generic name: Thai Joint. How many times have I driven past without stopping?
3456 Adams Ave, San Diego
I had to be told it’s a sister restaurant to the University Heights Thai spot, Plumeria, and to Chi Extraordinary Kitchen, which is also on the stretch of Adams spanning the upper end of North Park (we might as well call it North Park Heights). I’ve been fond of Plumeria’s vegetarian and vegan Thai Cuisine since it opened in 2012. And in the past five years, I’ve also been wowed by Chi Extraordinary’s focus on Thai seafood dishes. In other words, Thai Joint is worth stopping for.
A bland storefront and an almost forgettable name
Turns out, the original Thai Joint opened more than 15 years ago at a different Adams Avenue location. This one’s only been open since 2018, but it doesn’t seem like the residents of Normal Heights forgot the brand. Thai Joint has no patio or parking lot space to dress up as outdoor seating. Nevertheless, during the current pandemic closure, I continue to find a steady stream of customers picking up take-out.
Plastic sheeting covid fortifies the Thai Joint's ad hoc take out counter.
There’s a steady stream of delivery drivers representing pretty much every delivery app — Thai Joint works with all of them. One of the drivers I meet while picking up an order shares how challenging it can be to lose weight while running deliveries. How he’s on an intermittent fasting diet, which means he fasts during the day and only eats in the evening. He used to drive people around for Lyft, but switched to food during the pandemic. Now every time he picks up great smelling meals, it makes him hungry.
House made "e-sarn" Thai sausage
Thai Joint is one such challenging place, he says. When he clocks out, he occasionally returns as a customer. He vouches for the crispy tamarind wings ($).
I vouch for the house made E-sarn (a.k.a. Isan) style sausage. The ground pork sausage has a crispy skin, flavored with ginger, galangal, lemon grass, chilis, and herbs. You can spot the occasional grain of rice in there, responsible for a satisfying tang distinct from that of hot dogs. The $7 appetizer will appeal to sausage fans, and while you may find the same wings at Chi Extraordinary Kitchen, the sausage is exclusive to Thai Joint.
Coconut based red curry, with bell peppers, bamboo shoots, eggplant, and chicken.
Entrees represent the usual suspects of American Thai restaurants: coconut and lemongrass soups; curries of red, yellow and green; noodles and rice dishes featuring ginger, soy, and/or chili based sauces. To some extent these are all better than average, and cost $10 to $12 apiece, depending on your choice of protein, which at this location includes chicken and BBQ pork. Or, you can order a vegan version of just about any of them.
I don’t know how the heights came to be blessed with such abundance, but it’s an easy area to pick up a great family-style feast. Just be warned, these Thai Joints revel is spice: anything higher than level 3 should truly burn.