Thai food is a tricky, tricky thing. Great authentic, not watered down Thai food is as difficult to find as morel mushrooms. Previous to our discovery of Chai Thai Noodles we went to Champa Garden and the Berkeley Thai Temple to get our fixes. With Chai Thai Noodles, we’ve found really interesting Thai food that doesn’t just give you Pad Thai and Curry (although those are on the menu). The real stars of the menu are the salads and soups. Located just off Lake Merritt on (the aptly named) International Blvd. in Oakland, Chai Thai Noodles does live up to its name. I suspect that some of the more unexpected flavors of from Laotian influences. Particularly their rice ball salad (think rice that’s crispy like the bottom of a rice cooker). The salty-sour combination that you rarely get in Western cuisines is highlighted here. It’s served with lettuce leaves and herbs so you can make your own lettuce wraps. And again with the lettuce wraps, they serve a pretty mean larb – the Thai-Lao ground meat salad in a lime dressing that you put on lettuce leaves and eat with your hands. While the flavor is the awesome salty-sour, the texture of the catfish salad is a bit to dry and flaky.
But the real standout of Chai Thai are the soups. Every single one of the soups we tried were spectacular. Both the expected Tom Kha Ga and Tom Yum soups are not only delicious but served in HUGE portions. The great thing about these two standbys is the complexity of the flavors. Usually these dishes pretty much taste sour. But Chai Thai’s versions have a nice depth to them.
The other set of soups you need to order are their noodle soups. For one thing, they are a great value. They are priced from $7-8 for a soup that is served in a mixing bowl. J ordered the Kao Soy Thai, an egg noodle soup served with yellow curry as the broth. The kicker for this awesome dish is that it’s served with pickled mustard greens which adds a sour note to the salty-sweet of the yellow curry. On top of the soft egg noodles are a nest of deep fried egg noodles. I had the generically named beef noodle soup, kind of the Thai version of Pho Dac Biet with tripe, meatballs, beef, and bean sprouts. Very much like a pho but with a heartier spice level.
We haven’t gone through all of the noodles dishes but we will definitely be back for more.