Downtown Palo Alto is an oasis of ethnic cuisine, with numerous Italian, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants, among others. The choices for Thai cuisine include Bangkok Cuisine on Lytton Avenue, and Krung Siam, Siam Royal, and Thaiphoon, all on University Avenue.
We decided to try out Thaiphoon, which was voted the Best Thai Restaurant by Readers of the Palo Alto Weekly from 2006 to 2009. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, diners can stop by for a timely, economic lunch and taste of Thai.
While dinner entrees can cost double digits and require separate orders of rice and soup or salad, the lunch combo includes a reasonably-portioned entree along with a generous scoop of rice, salad with peanut sauce, and a small bowl of soup. Several rice and noodle options are also available at lunch, including the classic Chicken or Veggie Pad Thai.
All the lunch options range in price from $7.75 to $9.50. While this price is not unreasonable, we expected more food, as the casual decor and quick service of the restaurant seemed to suggest a more economic meal. Almost immediately after we ordered, we were served the soup portion of the lunch combo, which consisted of a simple miso soup with tiny pieces of tofu, seaweed, and celery floating inside. The celery was an interesting deviation from traditional miso soup, but we found the soup’s overall flavor rather unpleasantly sour.
Our entrees came soon after, served in a small container next to a scoop of rice and a small bed of salad. Unfortunately, the salad had too little peanut dressing for the amount of lettuce. The entrees were all flavorful, with plenty of leftover sauce to pour over the rice. The pad thai was similarly portioned, a reasonable meal, but below our expectations for the $10 each we spent with tax and tip.
The menu is very friendly to vegetarians, and people who are unable to handle spice can still find a suitable option. From classic broccoli and beef to Chinese eggplant in spicy sauce, all the options boast authentic Asian flavors, from traditional to Thai to Pan-Asian fusion.
Downtown also offers two sushi options, Miyake and Sushi Tomo. Both offer sushi as well as dinner boxes, which include, rice, soup, and a combination of three items: chicken or beef or fish terriyaki, tempura, sashimi, California rolls, etc. The options for each location vary a little but the prices are very similar and the portions are also very similar. The dinner boxes are around $10 at each location, with a slightly cheaper option at lunch.
Both restaurants can get rather crowded on Friday nights and during the weekends, but this is a much more serious problem at Sushi Tomo, which has a smaller downtown location. Miyake also offers a sushi boat option, with trays of sushi rotating around a large table which diners can take. When diners are done eating, servers count up the number of plates taken to calculate the bill.
While the food is not very different, each restaurant has a distinct atmosphere. Sushi Tomo is small and crowded, dominated by conversations among families or groups of friends at closely-packed tables. In contrast, Miyake is more spacious with music playing and lights flashing. It is a better place for large groups, unlike the more intimate setting at Sushi Tomo
Both restaurants also once had two locations, but Miyake recently closed its Cupertino location. Sushi Tomo’s second location is on El Camino Real near Pizza Chicago, and this location is larger with a sushi boat option and generous spacing between tables.
Downtown Palo Alto abounds with ethnic cuisine, and this is only a small sampling of the options available there.