Dining Reviews

Real Thai Kitchen Delivers Spicy, Cozy Specialties

The brown rice alone packs flavor galaxies in every bite

Tom kha shrimp soup (upper right), tofu pad thai (left) and beef panang curry are popular offerings from Real Thai Kitchen. PHOTO: TARMO HANULA

On a chilly evening, we crave something spicy. And the longstanding Thai landmark on Seabright Avenue did not disappoint. I have loved the curries from Real Thai Kitchen on evenings past. The green, the red, the yellow, the super spicy. But we made other choices last week. 

First off—and always—we needed an order of the house-steamed dumplings, Chu Mai ($9.50). It’s more fun to dish these out at the table from the round bamboo basket fresh from steaming. But, for now, we savored the plump wonton spheres stuffed with crab, shrimp, mushroom, chicken and cilantro that are at their very best topped with the mysterious black sauce, sweet, tart, and spicy, that makes each bite so delicious you never want the flavors to stop. 

We also picked up two entrees, a side order of brown rice (outrageously good for $2.75) and steamed silver noodles ($3). The spicy green bean stir-fry ($11.95) was loaded with excellent tofu, as requested, plus green beans, carrots, and green bell peppers. The chili paste with which everything had been wok’d packed the desired kick, and while I wished for more sauce with this dish, it was just fine with brown rice so good we fantasized about a future dinner of just that. Brown rice. Maybe with one of Real Thai Kitchen’s curries. 

Our other main dish from the popular eatery was a classic version of pad thai ($11.95), one of this cuisine’s gifts to the world. Rice noodles stir fried with bean sprouts, slices of green onion, plump shreds of tofu, plus bits of chicken, shrimp and plenty of egg and crushed peanuts in a delicious tamarind sauce. I added both entrees to my bowl, adding loads of texture to each. 

But it was that brown rice that really amazed. With the bran still on the grain, this rice had more flavor and more chewy texture than my home-cooked variety. It is almost a whole new grain and maximizes the flavors and textures of everything you put on it. Fantastic all by itself. On your next visit to Real Thai Kitchen, do not fail to pick up an order of the house brown rice. Flavor galaxies in every bite. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Learn more at reathaisantacruz.com

Gifts from the Sea

Check out the Dungeness crabs available through Ocean2Table. Fresh from the boat, cooked and cleaned! But there’s more from the marine entrepreneurs: anchovies and trout, not to mention a dizzying array of mushrooms. Shiitakes, black pearl tree oysters, golden chanterelles, black trumpet mushrooms (to sauté in butter and garlic!), hedgehog, dried porcini, candy caps. A serious variety of the fruit of the Earth. Delivered to your place if you want. 

Check getocean2table.com, and keep these guys in business bringing very fresh produce and fish from producers to you.

Looking Forward To …

Bradley Brown’s upcoming Big Basin Vineyards downtown Santa Cruz tasting room.

The next depot of flavor-intensive cooking from Home, where Brad Briske and his creative culinary team flourish, will be HomeFry over at Discretion Brewing, where Santos Majano formerly made menu miracles. So far, Homefry’s menu talks about lots of charcuterie, mushrooms with high wattage sauces, Monterey Bay rock cod and slaw, Fogline Farm chicken creations, and other specials involving huge helpings of finesse and avocado whip. Sounds inventive, as you would expect from Briske.  

And looking forward to the Feb. 1 reopening of that palace of carnitas Steamer Lane Supply at the corner of Lighthouse Field and the Monterey Bay.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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