Six months ago, only lucky locals knew about the little Thai restaurant hidden down a San Luis Obispo sidewalk between Palazzo Giuseppe and the now-closed McCarthy’s Irish Pub.
That’s about to change.
After an extensive makeover, Thai Palace is back with a sleek look that reflects all the warmth and flavor of traditional Thai cuisine.
"We wanted to bring something about our culture to the restaurant, as well as the food," said Terrapan Terratarkul, who owns Thai Palace with his partner, Judy Hengcharoen.
According to Terratarkul, who also owns part of Paso Robles’ upscale Basil, talk of renovating the Court Street space began at least six years ago.
Local architect Stephen Barasch modeled the new interior after the streets and back alleys of Bangkok, dividing the main space into small dining areas and installing large wooden pillars and a long, elegant bar.
Thai Palace doesn’t appear to have changed its menu much, but recent visits suggest it’s still a comfortable spot for lunch and dinner.
Can’t miss it
Don’t worry about walking past Thai Palace.
Diamond-shaped mirror tiles in shades of red, gold, blue and green now lend a bit of Las Vegas glitz to the eatery’s glittering front.
Inside, the restaurant resembles an upscale bistro that wouldn’t look out of place in Santa Barbara or the Bay Area.
Terra-cotta walls lend warmth to a twisting space that’s rich with mementos of Thai heritage: a portrait of the royal family, carved wooden elephants, a gurgling fountain depicting huge lotus flowers in bas-relief.
The new bar, which serves beer, wine and sake, backs a massive mirror painted with a colorful jungle scene.
In the back, the once bare and drafty banquet room has been converted into a more comfortable dining space garnished with hanging plants. Another fountain, this one with water spouting from the trunks of stone elephants, looks to become a popular date spot.
Thai Palace’s attention to detail falters only once: Some of the booths sport triangular pillows that offer little support for relaxing customers — you’re more likely to slouch than sit back.
Presentation is part of the appeal at Thai Palace.
On my first visit to the improved eatery, I couldn’t resist ordering Geang Subparod ($11), a curry served in a hollowed-out pineapple "boat" complete with spiky top. Peppers, pineapple and fried tofu squares swam in a light, spicy red curry sauce.
My only complaint was that the dish was lukewarm, maybe because of the bustling crowds packing the restaurant that weeknight.
My second visit promised more tempting dishes from Thai Palace’s eight-page menu. This time the curry arrived at my table steaming hot in rough clay pots resting in metal holders.
In the Geang Deang ($11), tender bamboo shoots and thin strips of beef floated with carrots, onions and peppers in red curry sauce. Geang Kreaw ($11), a green curry laced with chili and herbs, had plenty of tasty, tender pork.
Although some spice mavens might find even "medium hot" a little mild, I rated the curry pleasantly — not painfully — spicy with a warm finish.
For a more powerful sauce, I sampled the Pad Prik Khing ($11), which featured chicken and green beans flavored with fried kaffir lime leaves. While tasty, the green beans didn’t have the snap I associate with Thai cooking.
Thai Palace’s version of Pad ne Mow noodles ($10), meanwhile, may surpass Pad Thai as my favorite Thai comfort food. Sweet chili sauce infuses wide, pan-fried rice noodles and scrambled egg with a hint of heat, blending nicely with the onion, red and green bell peppers and small tomatoes.
Another hit was the restaurant’s take on a Thai staple, chicken drenched in spicy peanut param sauce ($11) and served on a bed of spinach. One bite of that unspeakably delicious sauce, and I could have downed an entire bottle.
Thankfully, Thai Palace is generous with its fragrant jasmine rice, always a good sign.
The menu also features tall, sweet Thai iced tea and coffee as well as appetizers ranging from fried purses of sweet potato to the humorously named Crying Tiger ($5), long strips of beef in a delicious but fiery pepper sauce.
A worthy rediscovery
As Thai Palace’s newly elegant look suggests, change is often a good thing.
While the renovated space shows some attempts to cater to the Central Coast’s more upscale clientele, Thai Palace thankfully has the same reasonable prices and solid fare.
After so many years, it’s time this hidden gem had a chance to shine.
1015 Court St., San Luis Obispo
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
The scene: Warm, elegant eatery modeled after Bangkok
The cuisine: Traditional Thai with plenty of spice and flavor
Expect to spend: About $10 for most entrees