When 55 Thai Kitchen first appeared in the cramped back room of a corner market in Golden Hill, the community-minded eatery had me intrigued. When the food turned out to be good, in addition to being healthy and affordable, I became a fan. And, because it serves til 10 pm and I live in the neighborhood, it didn’t take long until I became a regular. I even took an adventurous date there once; despite a distinct lack of atmosphere and seating, it went well.
1564 Garnet Ave,, Pacific Beach
A couple years later, and 55 Thai has grown. Not in Golden Hill — that tiny counter still bustles in the back of my preferred seller of salty snacks and lottery tickets — but with added locations in East Village and beside SDSU. And more recently, in Pacific Beach.
Now, all of its newer locations outdo the original in size and scope — the East Village shop even has an interior garden with bamboo growing all the way up to the skylights. But this Pacific Beach shop takes it. Tall, wide, and deep, this space is too large to fit into a picture frame. It’s big enough to include over a dozen tables, including one very long communal table cut from a tree trunk. There’s a living wall covered in green plants inside, and more plants growing on the patio, providing shade for a — I kid you not — koi pond.
The new restaurant offers a kid menu, but that’s not what convinced me to drive into PB. I did that for the Thai fried chicken.
I’ve eaten through most of the menu items in Golden Hill a couple times over. That location recently added pad see ew to their noodles selection, which is a definite win for the neighborhood. But the Pacific Beach restaurant features crispy gai tod, the Thai word meaning fried chicken.
That’s if you order it as an appetizer ($5). Order the $8.75 entrée and it’s kao mun gai tod, indicating it’s served over garlic rice. This 55 Thai Kitchen offers kao mun gai, which is still chicken and still garlic rice, but the chicken is poached, not fried. I’m happy for anyone who goes that healthier direction, I really am. But come on, guys, we’re talking about fried chicken thighs here. That’s going to be my first choice, every time.
The crispy fried batter is salty and savory with a hint of nutmeg, or maybe cinnamon. Like most of 55 Thai’s dishes, it’s kept simple: boneless chicken sliced and served over rice, with cucumber, sweet chili sauce, and a side of clear yet fragrant chicken broth. Time will tell whether it replaces tom kha noodles or Thai fried rice in my 55 Thai affection.
Another location-specific item served here is kai jeow, a Thai omelet. I would expect it to be up to the standards of this growing family of restaurants, and I’ll probably try it sometime. But in this case, the chicken came before the egg.