The Best Thai Restaurants In SF guide image


The Best Thai Restaurants In SF

Khao soi, rich curries, and nose-clearing papaya salads—you’ll find them all at these 14 incredible Thai spots.

The Thai food scene in SF is small yet mighty, and it’s got range. There are neighborhood spots serving street food specialties like khao kha moo, and fancier destinations with multi-course tasting menus and caviar. Each spot shines in their own way. Since you’re reading this guide, you’re probably here for the fiery curries, noodle soups, and heaping plates of pad see ew. So let this guide lead the way to the best.


The Thonglor

You’ll want to send everyone in your contacts list to The Thonglor, but also gatekeep this place at the same time—a meal at this tiny Lower Nob Hill spot is the restaurant equivalent of a pump-up album you listen to top to bottom, no skips. You’re treated to a parade of hearty curries, nose-clearing papaya salads, and the most flawless pad thai you’ll ever lay your eyes on. It’s perfectly chewy, a sweet-salty punch, and beyond worth the price of admission, a.k.a. waiting alongside other eager noodle enthusiasts in the narrow entryway for one of only eight tables. Whether you’re wandering around Westfield alone or taking pictures of the Union Square holiday tree, just get here. You won’t look at pad thai the same way again. 

There’s a reason why Nari is so highly rated: a meal at this Japantown place that's overrun with plants is one for the books. Thai dishes are a masterclass in combining spicy, sweet, and funky flavors, and are truly unlike anything you’ll find in town—core memory material. Charred pork jowl and squid intermingle on the plate like a flirty summer fling, and the cubed, fried branzino mountain is topped with handfuls of chilis. Equally unforgettable is the chef’s pick menu. It includes a few off-menu items, like some impossibly flaky duck curry puffs that make the $125 price tag worth it. Whisper “I’m sorry” to your wallet, order like this is your last meal ever, and prepare for an all-out feast.

There's no pad thai or pad see ew at Prik Hom, but rather more eclectic dishes. You’ll find a grilled beef wrap curry covered in mint, parsley, and yogurt sauce, a fried branzino salad smothered in passion fruit dressing, and other seasonal dishes made using whatever vegetables were fresh from the market that day. Each dish at this low-key, upscale place oozes flavor. There are no wrong choices. The tender beef instantly falls apart in your mouth. The scallop and lemongrass “shot” topped with a chili jam will put you into a state of wistful limerence for the rest of the meal. But the smoked young coconut ice cream, which comes in a glass dish with Thai incense, is the next-level, multi-sensory experience that'll have you running back here.

For the uninitiated, Kin Khao is Nari’s older, less-splashier sibling. But the funk-and-spice-packed dishes coming out of this Union Square destination are a force. Start with the hot chicken wings before turning to the fiery, crispy nam tok beans or caramelized pork belly that glistens. Sure, you might have to dodge a few roller bags to get here—it’s located in the Parc 55 hotel—but seek this place out regardless of whether you’re staying there or not. Or just come whenever your boss wants to “get some air,” make the 15-minute trek from FiDi to here, and write off a couple of fried chicken sandwiches as team bonding.

Farmhouse Kitchen is a party—and the most unique Thai spot in town. It’s loud, lively, and full of festive rose walls. There are even stunning yet kitschy dishes, like an instant ramen cup overflowing with stir-fried noodles, and topped with a gigantic beef rib. To be blunt, this Mission spot is serving up a colorful backdrop for feed content, but it’s also a tropical-inspired feast. The food is big, bold (though on the sweeter side), and absolutely delivers. Just look to the perfect hat hai fried chicken with yellow curry, the hunky lime dressing-drenched neua num tok rolls, and the creamy khao soi nuea with flavorful beef. 

Longstanding Lers Ros has been operating since 2008, so you can trust that they know a thing or two about churning out excellent Thai curries, noodles, and soups. The menu is long enough to pass for a young adult novel, meaning you could come to this nice-casual place once a week and barely make a dent. Just be sure to zero in on the saucy garlic pork and roasted duck curry, which are standouts on a menu full of hefty-portioned hits. Lers Ros has two other locations in the Mission and Hayes Valley, but we love the quirky charm of the original on Larkin, which is decked out with quotes about home cooking on the walls. 

Kothai Republic serves food unlike anywhere else in the city—probably because it’s the only Korean-Thai fusion spot that we know of in town. Settle in with a few of your friends and order a mix of small plates (where this place shines) that blend fermented and tongue-twistingly tart flavors. Think a Thai green curry with a kimchi-covered king salmon, a ceviche that looks like small fish balls atop little gem lettuce, and the crowd-favorite kimchi rice balls covered in bacon and sharp cheddar. Whatever you do, get a bottle of sake, and make sure to get the apple pie cheesecake, which has the right amount of citrus.

We won’t sugar coat it: the 21-page menu at Amphawa is so long it should come with its own SparkNotes guide. Yet quantity does equal quality at this homestyle Richmond spot with a trickling fountain and flowers on every table. From the classic soups and curries to the specials like house beef jerky and deep-fried sausage, flavors are amped up to the max. Exhibit A: the kao kana moo krob, or crispy, salty-sweet pork belly served over Chinese broccoli, and the ultra-tender pork leg stew (kao ka moo) with its star anise aroma we want to turn into an essential oil. We also adore this spot because it’s laidback, easy to walk into, and perfect for catching a game on their TVs over dinner.

Marina-based Baan Yaai is a Thai street food oasis in a section of the city that’s seriously lacking in Thai restaurant operations. Just don’t be dissuaded by the Patagonia vest-wearing crowd who use this place as a reliable lunch or dinner standby. For once they know what they’re doing—this spot can run it with the other great Thai spots on this guide. So join the herd, and come here for chicken satay served with creamy peanut sauce, sour tom yum soup, perfectly cooked pad kee mao, and buttery, flaky roti that melts in your mouth after you dip it into the red curry.

House of Thai in Lower Nob Hill is another casual spot focusing on moderately priced Thai curries, fried rice, salads, and noodles. But in this house, the funk and spice are dialed up for maximum flavor. You’ll see pad see ew with minced pork charred to the point of caramelization, BBQ pork tossed in a chili lime dressing so perfect we want to rename it Bring On The Funk, and a tom kha ga that’s anything but bland or overly creamy. Think of it as a jolt to your palate—even a side of peanut sauce has a rich depthness to it. The space is huge, with high walls and plenty of seating. So gather your closest friends, bask in the loud echo, and get here. 

King's Thai Cuisine #2 is a late-night spot—which in SF terms means open until midnight (yes, this city goes to bed early). So, pull up with a group after a night out for simple, no-fuss Thai classics, like pad see ew with perfectly cooked noodles, and spicy red curry that’s served up faster than you can register how drunk you actually are. If you come during the day—and avoid the rowdy groups coming home to this hearty-food promised land—this place is still buzzing. Families and locals gather around wooden tables, drinking Chang beers and eating out-of-this-world crispy chicken wings doused in a slightly-spicy chili sauce that coats your mouth in the best way.

You’re at Sai Jai Thai for one reason, and one reason only—the BBQ pork shoulder fried rice. What this Tenderloin spot lacks in seating (there are just a few tables), it makes up for with an extensive round-up of Thai usual suspects, from pad thai to pad kra praw and every curry your heart could desire. But, really, the BBQ pork shoulder fried rice is what makes a trek here worth it. Yes, the rice could be more toasted, but we’re not mad since the pork is perfectly cooked, and their BBQ sauce has an amazing tang we want to bottle up and take with us everywhere.

If we had it our way, the spicy-sweet grilled prawn salad from Khob Khun would be the Richmond’s neighborhood ambassador. It’s a fantastic starter that steals the show at every meal here, thanks to the plump, charred shrimp in a chili sauce we want on everything. It’s not the only reason to return weekly to this cheery, flower-filled spot—their menu of mostly Thai staples, like the tender duck curry with juicy tomatoes and beef noodle soup, are fantastic. Plus, Khob Khun is the only spot on this guide that serves brunch. So when you wake up feeling gremlin-like on a Sunday, and need a spot to revive yourself over french toast, Thai congee, fried rice, and moo ping, get here.

On paper, Basil Thai might seem like just another solid casual neighborhood Thai spot. That’s not wrong, but this place is also where to get a tad rowdy with a group and have a fun birthday dinner. Order multiple rounds of sake at the big communal table in the back, and revel in the pink neon sign that makes this place feel more like Santa Monica than SoMa. Dishes lean on the sweeter side, so maybe skip anything glazed (like the mango-coated pla priow wan fried fish), and stick with the classics. From the surprisingly long menu, the basil green curry, pad ke mao, and pad see ew rise to the top.

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photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

The Best Thai Restaurants In SF guide image