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Drag yourself to East Village for Sovereign Modern Thai

Are you missing out on some of the city’s best Southeast Asian cuisine?

Grilled steak over beef tallow fried rice
Grilled steak over beef tallow fried rice

I pretty much had to be dragged to Sovereign Modern Thai Cuisine. Despite strong recommendations — from trusted foodie friends, the Michelin guide, and even my wife — I harbored reservations toward trying the East Village restaurant, only because of its location.

Place

Sovereign Modern Thai Cuisine

1460 J St., San Diego

First of all, Sovereign sits at the base of one of the Pinnacle on the Park skyrises, those Lego-looking towers erected right next to Fault Line Park. Though I’m no fan of the architecture, my real prejudice was the previous eateries at this location were very, very not good. Despite large windows and patio seating that embrace the green space of the park outside, I did not expect a serious restaurant would ever emerge from this kitchen.

Then there’s our city’s ongoing homelessness crisis. Sovereign’s only a block removed from San Diego’s skid row, where tents and makeshift tarp shelters line the sidewalks along 16th and 17th Streets. Understandably, unhoused souls are as attracted to the grassy park as the high-rent, neighborhood dog-owners. Unfortunately for would-be diners, both populations may contribute an escalated urgency to the caution: watch your step. Whatever your opinion on city efforts to clear out this end of East Village this spring and summer, the net effect for businesses such as Sovereign appears to be a much cleaner approach than experienced in recent memory.

The latest eatery next to Fault Line park

I don’t want to make it sound as though the relative success of any restaurant supersedes the need for safe, compassionate public policy. However, I do very much want to say that I hope there remains an inviting path for new customers to try Sovereign Thai. Because it serves some of the best southeast Asian cuisine in the entire city, and deserves to be a runaway success.

Now that I’ve tried its Northern Thai spicy beef soup, packed with tender, braised beef cubes and a wonderfully complex, hot and sour broth, it kills me to think I might have missed out because it was easier to avoid the urban pitfalls of a certain part of town. This $20 soup doesn’t even include noodles, yet it alone is worth the visit.

Chicken larb, served with lettuce to wrap it in

The same could be said about virtually every dish I’ve tried, even the simple, “heavenly” pork jerky ($10). Or, another Lao favorite: larb ($15), served with prettier presentation than the minced chicken salad usually receives.

In addition to creating delicious, photo-friendly dishes, Sovereign stands out because it often uses locally-sourced ingredients. That could mean Mexican white shrimp in its pad Thai noodles ($20), or a whole-fried, locally-caught rockfish to share ($45, or market price).

An interesting beer, wine, and sake bar, plus large windows overlooking the park

And though Sovereign’s menu rarely strays far from familiar and traditional fare, Thai food enthusiasts may count on thoughtful details that set it apart from the usual, pick your protein spots. A khao soi dish, for example, features a leg of duck confit and fermented mustard greens to go with curry and crispy noodles ($24). Even better, the grilled New York steak is served over rice fried, not in oil, but with beef tallow. The difference in flavor owing to that rendered fat proves everything you want it to be and then some: the dish is a steal at $26.

With plush, leathery booths, and a bar serving the likes of natural wine and craft sake in addition to more conventional beers and wines, Sovereign Modern Thai would be a sensation in most neighborhoods. Here, next to Fault Line Park, it’s got a dedicated following of regulars, and, more often than it should, unoccupied tables.

I hope I am dragged back, soon and often. And I hope you are too.

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Grilled steak over beef tallow fried rice
Grilled steak over beef tallow fried rice

I pretty much had to be dragged to Sovereign Modern Thai Cuisine. Despite strong recommendations — from trusted foodie friends, the Michelin guide, and even my wife — I harbored reservations toward trying the East Village restaurant, only because of its location.

Place

Sovereign Modern Thai Cuisine

1460 J St., San Diego

First of all, Sovereign sits at the base of one of the Pinnacle on the Park skyrises, those Lego-looking towers erected right next to Fault Line Park. Though I’m no fan of the architecture, my real prejudice was the previous eateries at this location were very, very not good. Despite large windows and patio seating that embrace the green space of the park outside, I did not expect a serious restaurant would ever emerge from this kitchen.

Then there’s our city’s ongoing homelessness crisis. Sovereign’s only a block removed from San Diego’s skid row, where tents and makeshift tarp shelters line the sidewalks along 16th and 17th Streets. Understandably, unhoused souls are as attracted to the grassy park as the high-rent, neighborhood dog-owners. Unfortunately for would-be diners, both populations may contribute an escalated urgency to the caution: watch your step. Whatever your opinion on city efforts to clear out this end of East Village this spring and summer, the net effect for businesses such as Sovereign appears to be a much cleaner approach than experienced in recent memory.

The latest eatery next to Fault Line park

I don’t want to make it sound as though the relative success of any restaurant supersedes the need for safe, compassionate public policy. However, I do very much want to say that I hope there remains an inviting path for new customers to try Sovereign Thai. Because it serves some of the best southeast Asian cuisine in the entire city, and deserves to be a runaway success.

Now that I’ve tried its Northern Thai spicy beef soup, packed with tender, braised beef cubes and a wonderfully complex, hot and sour broth, it kills me to think I might have missed out because it was easier to avoid the urban pitfalls of a certain part of town. This $20 soup doesn’t even include noodles, yet it alone is worth the visit.

Chicken larb, served with lettuce to wrap it in

The same could be said about virtually every dish I’ve tried, even the simple, “heavenly” pork jerky ($10). Or, another Lao favorite: larb ($15), served with prettier presentation than the minced chicken salad usually receives.

In addition to creating delicious, photo-friendly dishes, Sovereign stands out because it often uses locally-sourced ingredients. That could mean Mexican white shrimp in its pad Thai noodles ($20), or a whole-fried, locally-caught rockfish to share ($45, or market price).

An interesting beer, wine, and sake bar, plus large windows overlooking the park

And though Sovereign’s menu rarely strays far from familiar and traditional fare, Thai food enthusiasts may count on thoughtful details that set it apart from the usual, pick your protein spots. A khao soi dish, for example, features a leg of duck confit and fermented mustard greens to go with curry and crispy noodles ($24). Even better, the grilled New York steak is served over rice fried, not in oil, but with beef tallow. The difference in flavor owing to that rendered fat proves everything you want it to be and then some: the dish is a steal at $26.

With plush, leathery booths, and a bar serving the likes of natural wine and craft sake in addition to more conventional beers and wines, Sovereign Modern Thai would be a sensation in most neighborhoods. Here, next to Fault Line Park, it’s got a dedicated following of regulars, and, more often than it should, unoccupied tables.

I hope I am dragged back, soon and often. And I hope you are too.

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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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