For Thai cuisine with a coastal influence, set a course for Thai Talay in Pismo Beach. As owners and cousins Tricia Hamachai and Pranita “Jay” Onyeneke explain, the restaurant’s very name translates to “Thai by the sea.”
Since opening in November 2003, Thai Talay has presented an elegant experience with a touch of the exotic. The inviting interior is richly accented, including traditional wood paneling, vertical reaches of bamboo, cascading green grasses, and crisp white linen napkins.
Thai Talay got its start because Hamachai’s retired parents had a longtime dream of opening a restaurant.
Having found the Price Street property, they wanted Hamachai — who graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with an architecture degree — to have a look.
With Onyeneke — a graduate of culinary school in Thailand — agreeing to come on board as chef, the families got started on what turned out to be a couple months’ worth of remodeling.
As planned, Hamachai stepped away from Thai Talay after it opened, but she recalled with a laugh that “my dad changed his mind (about running a restaurant) after about a year.”
However, the timing was right to move her young family up from the Los Angeles area, so she relocated and took over the “behind the scenes” role.
“Jay and I are a great team,” said Hamachai.
“We get to play to our strengths, and she takes care of everything in the kitchen. She grew up cooking and is incredibly creative, not just in the food but in making things look beautiful.”
Onyeneke’s culinary experience also includes executive chef positions at five-star hotels in Bangkok and Melbourne, and she’s skilled in the centuries-old Thai tradition of carved garnishes.
With just a few deft knife moves, she can turn a simple carrot into a work of edible art, or she might spend several hours intricately transforming the outside of a cantaloupe into a complex design.
Another niche that Thai Talay has carved out is in showcasing “barbecue and seafood dishes because we’re here in Pismo,” explained Hamachai.
“We wanted to take some American themes and apply them to Thai food.”
The grilled meats range from duck to short ribs to garlic pork, and the list of specialty seafood is extensive in both fish options and preparations.
You can choose from shrimp sautéed with baby corn and snow peas, a steamed salmon with bamboo shoots, or a fried filet of sole topped with mango sauce. Yet another favorite is the opulent Schuschi Talay with six types of fish and shellfish in delicate curry-flavored coconut milk.
Of course, you’ll find more curries typical to Thai cuisine — panang, pumpkin, masamun — and the broad menu has many other familiar dishes such as chicken saté, Pahd Thai noodles, and spicy garlic beef.
There are several other unique items worth exploring, including Caow Tom, a deceptively straightforward rice soup with vegetables and chicken broth that “you won’t find on most menus because it’s viewed as such an everyday meal in Thailand,” Hamachai said.
To get the layers of flavors central to Thai cuisine, everything possible is made from scratch and dishes are cooked to order. That allows Thai Talay to accommodate a variety of requests and dietary concerns, explained Hamachai.
Onyeneke can be counted upon to create daily specials such as sizzling chicken or green mussels with Thai basil and chili, and some longtime patrons just plop themselves down and tuck into whatever she serves them.
“We do have a wonderful local base,” noted Hamachai, “and we feel a deep, deep gratitude to the community that has supported us.”