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April 15, 2009 > Restaurant Review: Wonderful Thai Food in Fremont: Sala Thai Restaurant

Restaurant Review: Wonderful Thai Food in Fremont: Sala Thai Restaurant

By Denny Stein

Thai food, like Chinese food, is fairly ubiquitous in America. So coming across a Thai restaurant that is truly impressive, in your home town, feels like a reward for living well.

Two weeks ago, Mrs. Park and I had a late dinner at the Sala Thai Restaurant on State St. in Fremont. Despite the fact that we arrived at 9:15 p.m. and closing time is 9:30, the staff graciously seated us and did not rush us through our meal. When we are visiting a restaurant in order to review it, we usually order a bit more than we actually need, so that we can provide more information on the food. This time we ordered an appetizer of Golden Tofu, followed by Barbecued Pork Ribs, Sala Thai Special Fried Rice, Chicken Curry, and Pad Thai.

Why? You may ask, did we choose those dishes? Well, to us, Pad Thai is the deal breaker fare of Thai restaurants. If it's gummy, or watery, bland or too spicy, then I don't expect much from the rest of the menu. Sala Thai's Pad Thai passed our test. It was filled with shrimp, green and red onion, bits of egg, bean sprouts, red cabbage and carrots. Noodles were not too soft not too tough (I checked with Goldilocks), and the Pad Thai sauce combined all ingredients so that each bite was full of flavor and aroma. By the time I remembered to take a photo, the plate was half empty.

Many Thai restaurants have white tablecloths and fancy linen napkins. But Sala Thai is casual, unpretentious and pragmatic. In fact, the dining room reminded me of a lodge in the mountains. Wood paneling echoed the exposed ceiling beams; lace curtains covered the lower half of the windows, and the Formica topped tables bespoke cleanliness. It's cozy at Sala Thai, the small hanging fixtures cast a golden light over the wood, giving the room a warm glow, while low wooden fence-like dividers subtly delineate three dining areas. There's even a semi-private booth if you're looking for romance.

Service was quick and friendly. The fried Golden Tofu triangles sat on a bed of lettuce, next to a small bowl of spicy and sweet sauce sprinkled with peanuts. Mix the two sauces, or try to avoid the spicy one, if you're like me, and just dip into the side of the bowl with the milder sweet sauce. The B-B-Q Rib is described as "Marinated Spare-Rib with Special Sauce (Must try)," and they're not fooling. There's nothing spare about these crunchy, sweet and meaty ribs, so don't pass them up.

Sala Thai Fried Rice had all the ingredients one wants in Thai fried rice: pineapple, onions, raisins, prawns, cashews, garnished with cucumber, cabbage and carrots. On our second visit, we tried the Pineapple Fried Rice and again were very pleased. These Fried Rice dishes are a meal in themselves, or wonderful as leftovers the next day.

If you're a fried food fan, try the Mango Chicken. It isn't my favorite dish at Sala Thai, but if you're craving chicken nuggets, you'll love it; lovely mango and vegetables with your chicken, a combination you won't find at that fast food chain down the street.

We walked into Sala Thai on our second visit at about 8 p.m. and the restaurant was full. On our first visit to Sala Thai we had ordered, and loved, the Yellow Curry with chicken, onion, potato, and yellow curry paste in a coconut milk. I'm not a spicy food fan, but both the Yellow Curry and the Duck Curry we got the second time, were rich and creamy, "coconutty" with a little warm kick. The Duck Curry was quite rich and robust with a nice balance of flavors.

Sala Thai is a family owned and operated business started by a woman from Thailand, who was then joined by her sister and her daughter. Other family members come over to work in the restaurant, though the last time we were there our server was a Thai man from San Jose.

Since most staff are family members, when one goes to visit family in Thailand, everyone else has to work even harder. The kitchen is a narrow railway car type affair where you can tell the ingredients go rapidly from the bins of prepped raw foods to the stove for spicing and heating. Everything gets cleaned up after the diners leave and the crew starts fresh the next day. The restroom was usable, but needed some attention.

Having just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., where we had Thai take-out one night, I am convinced that Fremont's Sala Thai is a premiere restaurant of its ilk. Every bite was better in Fremont than in D.C., so you only have to go around the corner to have a great meal, and you don't even have to dress-up! If you're in the Grimmer Blvd. Area, there is Sala Thai II, which does a booming lunch business.
Sala Thai I
39170 State St
(510) 792-0770

Sala Thai II
44800 S Grimmer Blvd
(between Fremont Blvd & E Warren Ave)
(510) 445-0088

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