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White Elephant picks up where a Thai favorite left off

Southeast Asian cuisine returns to the better half of former Amarin Thai property

Mango a chicken, a fried chicken highlight at White Elephant
Mango a chicken, a fried chicken highlight at White Elephant

A Hillcrest favorite, Amarin Thai, closed last fall, after holding down its Richmond Street location for more than 22 years. Longtime fans of the restaurant may be pleased to learn that Thai food is officially back in the building. At least, partly.

Place

White Elephant Asian Kitchen

3843 Richmond St, San Diego

White Elephant Asian Kitchen opened in May as a smaller restaurant than its predecessor; it occupies only half of the space. The new tenant walled up a doorway between Amarin’s two dining rooms, and the good news for White Elephant is it’s got the half with an enclosed patio attached.

Foodwise, plenty of familiar Thai dishes turn up on the menu, in particular the curries — staff of the restaurant tell me one of the owners is a vet of the Amarin kitchen. However, don’t mistake the place as an Amarin Thai part two. It offers plenty of specialties to go with the expected pad thai, pad see ewe, and drunken noodle , including crispy fried three-flavor fish, a roasted duck curry, and salmon penang. curry

On top of that, it’s not solely Thai food being served, but also Lao and Vietnamese cuisine. So from the Lao side I was able to order a deep fried beef jerky appetizer ($12) — served with a plastic bag of sticky rice — and considered either the tofu or chicken phở ($10).

The former site of Amarin Thai

That said, the white elephant has long been seen as a symbol of royal power in Thailand, and for most of the 19th century, a white elephant even figured prominently on Thailand’s national flag. So as the restaurant’s name suggests, there are mostly Thai dishes to explore.

Lao beef jerky, served with a bag of sticky rice

Though White Elephant doesn’t feature as extensive a soup menu as Amarin did, it remains one of the more compelling offerings. Aside from phở, and Thai mainstays tom yum and tom kha, there something called kanom jeen ($15), which turns out to be a chicken noodle soup featuring yellow curry and thin, rice vermicelli noodles.

I opted for a third chicken noodle soup: the signature white elephant soup, filled with much thicker, homemade rice noodles and flavored with garlic oil. Finished with scallions, it’s simple and nourishing enough to become a neighborhood favorite once everybody starts catching the common cold again.

Thick, homemade rice noodles in a garlicky chicken soup

One of the most intriguing menu items, to me, was a fried mango chicken ($16). There are many, many takes on fried chicken making the rounds in San Diego foodie-dom right now, but I can’t think of another one that makes such tempting use of fruit. Crispy fried nuggets of chicken are coated with sort of bright orange mango syrup, with chunks of fruit mixed in for good measure. I found a healthy dash of spice made the dish complete, but standing alone, the fruit doesn’t make it too sweet to savor.

A new look dining room in Hillcrest

White Elephant has put together a bright, sparingly elegant dining room to go with a measured take on southeast Asian cuisine, and I would only expect the food to get better as it settles in, perfectly timed to coincide with our great re-opening. On one side of the dining room, the entire wall is filled with a painted message that serves as a sort of mission statement for the eatery: “The best memories are made gathered around the table” That might well turn out to be the theme of this summer.

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Mango a chicken, a fried chicken highlight at White Elephant
Mango a chicken, a fried chicken highlight at White Elephant

A Hillcrest favorite, Amarin Thai, closed last fall, after holding down its Richmond Street location for more than 22 years. Longtime fans of the restaurant may be pleased to learn that Thai food is officially back in the building. At least, partly.

Place

White Elephant Asian Kitchen

3843 Richmond St, San Diego

White Elephant Asian Kitchen opened in May as a smaller restaurant than its predecessor; it occupies only half of the space. The new tenant walled up a doorway between Amarin’s two dining rooms, and the good news for White Elephant is it’s got the half with an enclosed patio attached.

Foodwise, plenty of familiar Thai dishes turn up on the menu, in particular the curries — staff of the restaurant tell me one of the owners is a vet of the Amarin kitchen. However, don’t mistake the place as an Amarin Thai part two. It offers plenty of specialties to go with the expected pad thai, pad see ewe, and drunken noodle , including crispy fried three-flavor fish, a roasted duck curry, and salmon penang. curry

On top of that, it’s not solely Thai food being served, but also Lao and Vietnamese cuisine. So from the Lao side I was able to order a deep fried beef jerky appetizer ($12) — served with a plastic bag of sticky rice — and considered either the tofu or chicken phở ($10).

The former site of Amarin Thai

That said, the white elephant has long been seen as a symbol of royal power in Thailand, and for most of the 19th century, a white elephant even figured prominently on Thailand’s national flag. So as the restaurant’s name suggests, there are mostly Thai dishes to explore.

Lao beef jerky, served with a bag of sticky rice

Though White Elephant doesn’t feature as extensive a soup menu as Amarin did, it remains one of the more compelling offerings. Aside from phở, and Thai mainstays tom yum and tom kha, there something called kanom jeen ($15), which turns out to be a chicken noodle soup featuring yellow curry and thin, rice vermicelli noodles.

I opted for a third chicken noodle soup: the signature white elephant soup, filled with much thicker, homemade rice noodles and flavored with garlic oil. Finished with scallions, it’s simple and nourishing enough to become a neighborhood favorite once everybody starts catching the common cold again.

Thick, homemade rice noodles in a garlicky chicken soup

One of the most intriguing menu items, to me, was a fried mango chicken ($16). There are many, many takes on fried chicken making the rounds in San Diego foodie-dom right now, but I can’t think of another one that makes such tempting use of fruit. Crispy fried nuggets of chicken are coated with sort of bright orange mango syrup, with chunks of fruit mixed in for good measure. I found a healthy dash of spice made the dish complete, but standing alone, the fruit doesn’t make it too sweet to savor.

A new look dining room in Hillcrest

White Elephant has put together a bright, sparingly elegant dining room to go with a measured take on southeast Asian cuisine, and I would only expect the food to get better as it settles in, perfectly timed to coincide with our great re-opening. On one side of the dining room, the entire wall is filled with a painted message that serves as a sort of mission statement for the eatery: “The best memories are made gathered around the table” That might well turn out to be the theme of this summer.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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