Cravings for Thai food in San Diego don’t ebb and flow based on the seasons; it’s a year round cuisine for everyone here. Hot summer days bring a thirst for Thai iced tea and hunger for cool papaya salad, while colder weather calls for classic noodle-based dishes and curries of all flavors and colors.
San Diego adores Thai food, as evidenced by more than 100 Thai restaurants (not including food carts) located in the county. The sheer number of restaurants speaks to the variety of cuisine within Thailand. From the prominence of spicy papaya salad in the Northeastern province of Isaan and the coconut curry of Chiang Mai to classic Pad Thai in Central Thailand and Muslim-influenced curry dishes in the South, you never know just what you’ll find on the streets of Thai cities and rural areas.
We’ve compiled our top picks for the best Thai food San Diego has to offer, so keep these spots in mind to satisfy your cravings.
Lanna Thai Cuisine
If you’re hanging out near Pacific or Mission Beach, consider Lanna your premier Thai food option, especially for those opposed to spice. Classic dishes comprise most of the menu, and the spice is always dialed down. You’ll need to beg for some heat if you’re in the mood for a little pain.
Don’t skip the mango sticky rice. The sticky rice topped with sesame seeds and toasted rice is paired with perfectly ripe mango. Complete with a coconut drizzle, its warm, creamy flavor surpasses most other dessert options in San Diego.
Basil Thai Bistro
Though you’ll have to drive out to Mission Trails Regional Park, this is a lunch favorite. “There is plenty of good Thai food in San Diego, but if you want it done right, check out Basil Thai Bistro, a restaurant that provides customers with a modern twist on traditional dishes,” says Tyler, a representative from Instinct Marketing.
“Try their green curry or panang curry along with an order of spring rolls,” he recommends. “If you like spicy flavors, they won’t disappoint! They also have lunch specials starting at US$7.95 that include miso soup and rice.”
Linda Vista, baby! Otherwise known as a food desert, this neighborhood has a few gustatory tricks up its sleeve. Linda Vista is the original location for Sab-E-Lee, one of San Diego’s favorite Southeast Asian dining experiences.
On Friday and Saturday night you’re unlikely to get a table unless you’re willing to wait for at least half an hour, though the pandemic has either eliminated or worsened that problem. Primarily known best for Isaan dishes, Sab-E-Lee has a range of classics and regional specialties packed with spice. For a quick bite, drop by the Sab-E-Lee food truck near Balboa Park on weekends.
Northern Thai isn’t Isaan Thai. The fishy flavors run amok with heat in Isaan, whereas Northern Thai fare is influenced by the neighboring countries of Myanmar and Laos. The region’s signature dish is khao soi, a coconut curry soup featuring crispy rice noodles. Dishes at Soi 30th tend to opt for a subtle sweetness and mild spice.
Supannee House of Thai
Lemongrass chicken and spicy squid happen to be two uncommon but popular dishes at Supannee House of Thai, located in Point Loma near Liberty Station. The farm-to-table produce from their gardens coupled with flavorful spices makes Supannee’s classic sweet noodle dishes. They procure fresh seafood and organic, locally-made tofu. This restaurant combines the best parts of Thailand.
J&T Thai Street Food
University of San Diego students know and love this classic Thai spot featuring staple street food. All the usual suspects come to the table at J&T’s, including yellow curry and the stir-fried sweet noodle dish pad see ew. Students can’t stop ordering the steamed chicken rice at every meal. They also offer a range of fresh teas to wash it all down.
Plumeria Vegetarian Restaurant
This University Heights vegan and vegetarian restaurant makes plant-based diets look incomparably mouthwatering. Plumeria is conservative with spice unless you request otherwise. The faux meat will fool even the most carnivorous customer. The Asian alcohol list makes for a fun Friday night with friends. Pair your choice of sake with your choice of side salad and warm noodle dish.
55 Thai Kitchen
Depending on which location you frequent, you’ll end up in Golden Hill, East Village, Pacific Beach or SDSU. The food isn’t so much a standout as a quick, easy and affordable (let’s be honest, dining out can take a serious toll on your wallet) option open later than most other Thai restaurants. Having multiple locations is also a perk.
All dishes at 55 Thai Kitchen come on the mild side. So, if you’re especially sensitive to spice, you’ll need to ask for a heat reduction. The spicy basil chicken is a favorite among regulars.
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