Thai Herb Kitchen: My Hunt for Green Curry is Finally Over

The green curry from Thai Herb Kitchen.

Photo: Lesa Griffith

Ever since Kookie Rivera left Club Thai Pattaya five years ago, I’ve been left with no place to get great green curry. (Even her short-lived Kookie’s Thai Kitchen in Kalihi didn’t live up to what she had been doing in that crazy karaoke bar.) Last night, though, the hunt ended. Thai Herb Kitchen, which opened in January, fills the aching hole in my heart.

I had read and heard good things about Thai Herb Kitchen, and finally made it to the space that used to be Taste of the Bayou on Kapahulu Street. Done up like a hippie beach shack, the restaurant is super casual—and cheap. Nothing is more than $12.99. The flavors, however: priceless.

The joint is owned by Japanese Thaiphile (yes, I’ll make up my own words if I want) Tetsuya Minagawa, who lived in Thailand where he studied cooking, and then opened Thai restaurants in Japan. He’s brought his expertise to Honolulu, and I thank him for it.

He has a team of three Thai cooks in the kitchen, turning out dishes that resonate with perfectly blended spices. The green curry (made only with chicken or shrimp) is a silky, thick, subtly sweet sauce that had me spooning it directly from the shared bowl into my mouth.

Opal Thai Food truck on the North Shore used to make the best tom kha gai on the island (and it’s available only occasionally as a special), but it’s been usurped by Thai Herb Kitchen. That inimitable combination of coconut and galangal is perfect, the layer of citrus making you have a second, perhaps third bowl of soup, until you look at your dining companion and ask, did we really eat all that?

Every Thai restaurant serves larb (a meat salad), but Thai Herb Kitchen serves it made with duck, the ground, toasted rice giving it a pleasingly gritty texture.

The restaurant says it serves food from Thailand’s northeastern region of Isaan, which borders Laos and Cambodia. A common dish there is the Burmese-influenced khao soi, a curry noodle dish (Spices on King Street serves a version too). I’m going back this week to try it, along with a slew of other dishes that go beyond the Honolulu Thai restaurant norm.

Thai Herb Kitchen, 740 Kapahulu Ave., 735-7878; $1 parking available at Bank of Hawaii across the street. Monday through Saturday noon to 3 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.; Sunday 6 to 10 p.m. BYOB, $2 per person corkage fee.