A Little History
What is usually referred to as Thai cuisine evolved in the Central regions of Thailand. Rice, fish, and vegetables, flavored with garlic, black pepper, and fish sauce, along with fresh fruit, comprised the basic diet of Sukhothai, a Thai empire founded in 1238 (the name Sukhothai means Dawn of Happiness). For 120 years, Sukhothai was the capital of a Thai kingdom that was considerably larger than Thailand is now. A total of eight kings ruled Sukhothai before 1365 when it was degraded into a vassal state of Ayutthaya. With new politics came new food — the almost essential chili pepper was introduced, as was coriander, lime and tomato — perhaps making their way from South America to Thailand via the Portuguese. Other influences came from India, Japan, Persia, and China.
In Davis, The Paragon was the first establishment to offer Thai food, but it was only available on weekdays when Sophia managed the bar's kitchen. Though The Paragon is long gone, Sophia's culinary legacy continues with Sophia's Thai Kitchen.
So You're Hungry for Thai Food in Davis
Davis has a surprising number of Thai restaurants for its size. Despite mixed reviews for each of its Thai restaurants, the Thai food found in Davis is consistently very good, unlike other genres of food to be had. Each of the restaurants below offers a dish or amenity uniquely good (such as free refills on Thai Iced Tea, excellent Pad Thai, or friendly and quick service) and each has a drawback (long lines, slow service, starchy food).
Chopsticks are not typically used for most dishes in Thailand, so don't be surprised to when you get a funny look upon requesting them. However, in Thailand, it is perfectly fine to use chopsticks for dishes with long noodles. For example, Pad Thai has long and thin rice noodle which is somewhat suitable to be eaten with chopsticks. In contrast, Pad See Ew uses thick and fat noodle ("Chow Fun" in Chinese) and could be eaten with a fork or a spoon in combination. The Thais prefer to use spoon with rice as their rice is flakier and softer than the Japanese counterpart.
The Spice Tray
Thais are big on doctoring their own food, especially with regard to spice. Most restaurants in Thailand will serve their dishes relatively mild, but will automatically provide a small tray of spicy condiments to add to the dish. Thai restaurants in the U.S. (including those in Davis) don't provide the spice tray automatically, but they almost always have them, and will happily bring one out if you ask. Common condiments on a spice tray include sliced chilies in vinegar or fish sauce, a sour chili-garlic sauce, and coarsely ground dried chilies (when you just need a direct blast of heat). So next time you ask for "extra spicy" at a Thai restaurant in Davis and get a mere medium instead, ask your waiter for the spice tray.
Pricing: High (~14/Entree); Pad Thai starts at $11. Now Featuring Lunch Specials @ $7.95.
Refills: Yes on Sodas and Thai Iced Teas
Misc: The remodeled and moved successor to 2K Thai Food
Pricing: Lunches are $6.95/$8.95/$9.95 (vegetarian,chicken, beef, or pork/shrimp, squid/seafood combo) including soup or salad, Dinner $8.95/$10.95/$12.95
Refills: Iced Tea (rest unknown).
Pricing: (9/person); Pad Thai is $8.95
Service: Super slow, but fun environment.
Refills: Yes on Thai Iced Tea
Misc: Free refills on Thai iced tea; outdoor heated and covered patio; long wait is typical, but you can hang out at the bar.
Pricing: Same menu all day long $6.95 to $8.95
Spiciness: mild to Thai hot
Service: selfserve restaurant similar to fast food Style
Misc: Opened in November 2010, in the space that was formerly occupied by Crepe House Uni at 117 E. Street.
Pricing: Lower (9/person); Pad Thai is $6.95
Misc: Menu available on DavisWiki, close to movie theater
Pricing: Moderate (~11/person); Pad Thai is $8.95
Quality: Considered by some to be the best
Refills: Yes on fountain drinks; no on Thai Iced Tea
Misc: Very vegetarian-friendly
Pricing: Moderate (~10/person); Pad Thai $7.95; Lunch specials are especially a good deal; salad, rice (unless ordering a noodle item), starting at $5.95 to $6.95
Quality: Very Good.
Misc: Voted Thai Bistro as "Best Thai food in Davis" in 2004. Towards the classy end of the scale. Outdoor seating, and duck dishes are always available. Has unusual dishes not found elsewhere.
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2006-09-16 11:36:42 Can we not list the price for Pad Thai, please? I understand its popular and all, but there is more to experiencing Thai food than just eating Pad Thai... This would be like having a page on American food and notating the price of a hamburger. —PaulAmnuaypayoat
I think that including the price of Pad Thai is a good indicator of how the pricing for the rest of the menu will follow. I would say that having the price of a hamburger is a good idea, too, since it would set a metric regarding how the restaurant prices their food, and can be used as a standard for comparison to like restaurants. —JoePomidor
I agree. I'm curious as to what the price of Thai hamburgers are. ;)
I love Thai food and in all truth, I really like most of the Thai restaurants in town. But, if I must choose... Thai Nakorn is my favorite. The food is consistently tasty with lots of good options (and good veggie options). The service is friendly and they welcome dogs on the patio. They also have some dishes that lean more towards Chinese, so if you're not sure what you want (or if you have a mixed party that can't make up its mind), it's a good choice. My second favorite is Thai Bistro. Hard to say why, other than the generic: quality ingredients that taste good. Try the sweet and sour chicken with mango. (Here's a hint: it's not that deep batter fried stuff with gloppy pink sauce). And they also get extra points for the nice outdoor patio where you can bring your dog. Thai Dynamite is a place I need to frequent more often; just can't seem to make it over there for dinner (I wish they were open for lunch!). After that, I like the way that Thai Recipes always asks if you want your tofu fried or soft, and Sophia's Thai Kitchen has that close-to-campus advantage, so it's probably my favorite for lunch. So, that's my preference for now, with the right to change my mind in the future! —CovertProfessor
2010-07-01 16:21:13 I groaned when I saw this, but there is yet another Thai place going to open in Davis. Where the Crepe place on E St was. I saw the license posted in the windwo today (http://twitpic.com/21jsm1). Eight Thai places, seven of which are all in 5 minutes walk of each other. —KeithBradnam
2010-07-01 16:43:31 A Google map showing all eight Thai restaurants in Davis: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&ll=38.544339,-121.729975&spn=0.072568,0.132093&z=14&msid=110173474194569111691.00048a5bdd402f73bcde7 —KeithBradnam