3 Must-Try Thai Dishes in San Francisco

Tom Yam Kung ,Prawn and lemon soup with mushrooms, thai food in wooden bowl top view

Did you know that California has the largest Thai population in the United States? The city of San Francisco specifically is home to hundreds of Thai restaurants, as well as talented home cooks creating both traditional and modern versions of classic dishes. Check out the Thai dishes worth tasting in San Francisco.

Thai stir-fried pork and fried egg and basil served with rice,Fried Basil with Pork Chop

Pad Kra Pao

Pad kra pao is one of Thailand’s most famous street foods. It’s traditionally made with chicken and served on a bed of hot rice and fried eggs, but variations abound. Nowadays, you can find versions made with tofu.

The origins of this classic comfort food can be traced back more than 40 years, and the use of fresh basil in Thai cuisine long before that — between 2,400-2,500 BC. This dish gets its well-deserved fame thanks to how quick and easy it is to make. Pad Kra Pao has a unique taste and typically will use pork over chicken. That said, any variation will still feature the delicious flavors the Thai basil stir-fry is known for. If you plan on making this, start by cooking garlic and chilies in a wok, then add your minced pork to stir-fry. Add oyster sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar to the wok, finishing off with a fresh handful of fragrant Thai holy basil. Stir for just a few more seconds before switching off the heat and mixing it with rice. Serve with sliced cucumbers, fried egg, and fish sauce for dipping!

For those around San Francisco pressed for time but crave homecooked Pad Kra Pao, head over to Shef.com! This online marketplace features talented local chefs ready to whip up your favorite dishes from different cuisines, including Thai! Shef Issara has been cooking since childhood and possesses restaurant experience that honed his skills in the kitchen. Today, he whips up different Thai dishes as a way to share his culture and make people happy through delicious dishes like his Khao Gra Prow Clook, a unique fried rice version of this beloved dish.

Other Ingredients Include Peanut, Lime, Chili Pepper, And Scallions

Pad Thai

One of the first dishes that would come to mind upon the mention of Thai comfort food is likely Pad Thai. It’s one of the most popular Thai dishes both in Thailand and the US. It’s a stir-fried rice noodle dish you can find in many street food stalls in Thailand and San Francisco-based restaurants. It features a sweet, savory, and spicy sauce with nutty, tangy flavors!

We can thank Plaek Phibunsongkhram (Phibun) for creating Pad Thai between 1938-1942. He was a military officer who dethroned Thailand’s monarchy, becoming Prime Minister soon after. During World War II, the country suffered a rice shortage, which prompted Phibun to use this as a nationalistic propaganda opportunity to unite the people. As a result, Pad Thai was dubbed the national dish of Thailand.

It was said that Phibun’s family cooked Pad Thai before it became Thailand’s national dish. Others say there was a national competition where Pad Thai won. While the exact origins of Pad Thai aren’t widely known, one thing’s for sure – Pad Thai was made to protect rice resources as noodles were cheaper and more economical to make. To make Pad Thai, simply cook flat rice noodles then make a flavorful sauce by combining fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, tamarind paste, hot sauce, and peanut butter (optional). Afterward, cook your chosen meat or tofu with veggies, followed by beaten eggs. Add the noodles, sauce, peanuts, and bean sprouts to your pan, tossing everything. Garnish your Pad Thai with cilantro, chopped green onions, lime wedges, and crushed peanuts.

Are you around San Francisco and thinking of ordering in? Shef Pia is a qualified Thai chef who grew up in North-East Thailand, learning how to cook authentic Thai dishes from scratch thanks to her family. Her dishes consist of classic Thai dishes with as much authenticity and minimally processed ingredients. She can whip up a delicious Pad Thai, this time a vegetarian version to accommodate all palates.

Tom Yam Kung ,Prawn and lemon soup with mushrooms, thai food in wooden bowl top view

Tom Yum

Tom Yum is another popular Thai soup recipe best served on cold nights because of its hot and sour flavors. This dish is usually cooked with shrimp, and a deeply rich broth made with fragrant spices and herbs like lemongrass, kaffir, galangal, & lime leaves. Tom Yum isn’t a well-documented recipe, which was likely passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, given the country’s oral traditions. It is said that it originated in Central Thailand as there were many fishing opportunities for shrimp in the Chao Phraya River. The first written record of Tom Yum is in 1888 but used snakehead fish. In 1897, the use of shrimp in Tom Yum was documented by an American missionary. But over time, Tom Yum grew in popularity and different varieties were made, changing the ingredients but still maintaining the iconic flavors it was first known for.

If you plan on making Tom Yum, start by pouring chicken stock into a deep cooking hot, allowing it to simmer over medium-high heat. Add minced lemongrass to the stock, letting it boil for 5-6 minutes and the fragrance starts to infuse. Reduce the heat then add garlic, mushrooms, lime leaves, and chili, letting it simmer for another five minutes. Then, add your shrimp and chosen vegetables, simmering for another 5-6 minutes. Finally, turn down the heat and add fish sauce and coconut milk. Pour your delicious soup into a bowl and garnish with fresh cilantro & lime wedges. Prepare yourself for a warm bowl of pure comfort!

When craving homemade Tom Yum, you can always order from Shef Pia, who values authenticity and rustic Thai flavors in her recipes. She grew up in rural North-East Thailand, the Isan region (Thailand’s largest region), which is where she learned to cook! Growing up, her mother and aunts taught her to cook Thai dishes without using processed ingredients, ensuring freshness in her classic Thai meals. Her Tom Yam tofu soup is a vibrant dish that packs in a ton of spice & traditional flavors of Thailand!

Find Local Shefs & Meals

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