Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez
There’s a constant, woeful rotating door when it comes to restaurants in San Francisco. It’s sad for only a moment after hearing about one of our favorite restaurant or bar’s sudden closing – only because we know it’s a matter of time before a new place opens. Tamarind Hall is a brand new Thai restaurant that just opened up in North Beach and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to check it out.
Tamarind Hall is a beautiful space that took over King of Thai’s nearly decade-long residency on the corner of Vallejo and Grant. Bangkok-born Salisa Skinner opened her restaurant in August with some serious shoes to fill. Luckily, her approach to casual bites and drinks is fitting the bill of what San Francitizens are looking for when it comes to Thai food in SF.
Upon walking into Tamarind Hall, we were greeted with music you’d hear in a rad wine or cocktail lounge and beautiful oil paintings of Muay Thai kickboxers. With a 60-seat dining room and long bar in the back, you can find a secluded table or something near the windows for people watching you’ll only ever get in SF.
Salisa has a law and Silicon Valley background, but always had a love for preparing food rooted in her family’s history and recipes. Her dishes are extraordinary – from authentic Thai ingredients to the actual presentation of her plates.
“I want this restaurant to celebrate the common people of Thailand along with my passion for street food,” Salisa says. “I’m not trying to compete with the Thai restaurants in the city. I’m doing my own thing.”
And it shows.
We started our meals with a couple cocktails. Go for the Thai Mango Mojito made with fresh chunks of mango, or the delicious Siamese G-Spot with tequila, St. Germain, lychee juice, and grapefruit juice. You’ll find other classic cocktails on the list, along with concoctions with unique Thai infusions.
Salisa proceeded to bring out some of her favorite and most-popular dishes for us to try. Thankfully we came with an empty belly. Go for the Chicken Satay presented on a piece of banana leaf and topped with a cucumber salad and peanut sauce. My mom makes a mean chicken satay and these were definitely on par with the southeastern flavors I had growing up.
The Mango Salad was definitely a favorite and is served with dried anchovies, crispy onions, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts tossed in lime juice and palm sugar. We also tried the Yam Makua Yao salad where smoky grilled eggplant is topped with soft-cooked duck eggs, mint, coriander, house-cured bacon and crispy garlic. Most of the dishes are topped with gorgeous orchids and edible wildflowers, adding even more beauty to these plates.
There’s a ton of other starter to choose from, ranging from Fresh Rolls and Curry + Roti, to Glass Noodle Salad and Tom Yum Goong soup. Popular starters appear on the restaurant’s happy hour menu, so drop by Monday-Friday from 5-7 p.m. if you want a taste of what these guys have to offer.
Tamarind Hall’s Pad Sew Ew.
Whenever I try out a new Thai restaurant, I always judge the place by their Pad See Ew and Tamarind Hall has a killer version. Another popular noodle dish is the Crab Meat Khanoom Jeen. Hunks of crab in a lemongrass curry are piled next to vermicelli noodles, basil and mint leaves, boiled eggs, and chopped cabbage before your server blends it all together in front of you. Obviously you’ll find other Thai classics on the menu, but talk to your server if you’re in an adventurous mood.
Save room for dessert because Tamarind Hall’s Sticky Rice with Mango is one of the best I’ve ever had. The rice is silky and sweet and the mango was perfectly ripe.
Tamarind Hall, despite taking over a special street corner in the city’s foodie history, is destined for success because of Salisa’s passion for food and the people of Thailand. For more information, visit www.tamarindhall.com.