From Comfort Food to Adventurous: King of Thai Boat Noodles Has a Dish for Every Mood
Curries, noodle soups, fried rice and other street food are made by a Bangkok-born chef.
On a rainy day I make my way to King of Thai Boat Noodles. I’m a sucker for names this ballsy, so even though I’m a little apprehensive when it comes to boat noodles, whose tart-sweet broth is enriched with pig’s blood, the menu of other soup noodles holds promise for a rainy day. The rest of my agenda is equally unadventurous: red curry with pumpkin and beef; roast duck fried rice; and the wide, chewy rice noodles of pad khi mao, slicked with soy and hiding leaves of cooked Thai basil.
Drawn to blood but too timid to drink: That’s my eating pattern when I travel. In Thailand and everywhere else I disavow air-conditioned tourist restaurants for street food stalls, though sometimes there’s a price—heat levels that make you sweat where you didn’t know you had sweat glands, maybe a stomachache. Every adventure is a lesson, and usually worth it.
The sign above the door promises Thai street food; the chatter among workers is entirely in Thai. The adventurous me is already happy. This is Thai Thai food, cooked by a chef from Bangkok who opened a chain of King of Thai Boat Noodle restaurants in the Bay Area before moving to Honolulu and opening this tiny shop on Ke‘eaumoku Street in August.
Having checked out King of Thai’s Instagram feed, I’m as assured by pictures of salted crab, fermented fish and blood cake garnishes as I am by the curry sauce with roti ($9), chicken satay ($12), fried chicken over fried rice ($13) and deep-fried calamari with sweet and sour sauce ($11). So when the server proclaims the bloodless pork noodles ($13) as her favorite noodle soup, the timid me immediately orders a bowl. It turns out to be almost too tame: a gentle, clear broth whose porkiness is more in its fragrance than its flavor, with rice noodles topped generously with sweet char siu, fish cake, fish balls and ground pork.
When the condiments appear—glass jars of green chiles in vinegar, dried red chiles, ground peanuts and more red chiles—I understand this broth is a starting point, and that like a Thai friend who took me to a Bangkok hole-in-the-wall and proceeded to throw seven heaping spoonsful of dried crushed chiles onto her noodle soup, I’m expected to customize mine. Which I do, throwing on spoonsful of peanuts and one or two drizzles of spicy vinegar. This is a good bowl for unadventurous days.
Of the other dishes, roast duck done well is always a reward, and the fried rice ($15) is rich with tender, well-seasoned slices adorned with lacquered skin. There’s almost nothing else in the dish—some green and white onion, blistered grape tomatoes and a little bit of fried egg—so the flavor of the wok tinges each mouthful.
The wok hay, as Chinese call it, is a reminder that plenty of Southeast Asian street cooking involves woks, and it’s almost as present in the pad khi mao noodle stir-fry ($12). Mixing these with the curry muddles the flavors of all, so it’s best to eat them separately, which lets the red curry’s fruity lightness come through. Anchoring notes of pumpkin, beef and shredded bamboo shoots in the coconutty sauce are a good foil against a heat level the server and I agreed on after specific discussion (“How spicy?” “You mean Thai spicy or local spicy?” “We can do local spicy” (laughing). “OK, give me local mild”) but which I would consider a high-medium.
I would get all three dishes again, especially the roast duck fried rice, though on a brighter day I might try the lime-blitzed pad thai or a different curry. King of Thai Boat Noodles is worth a visit any day.