Fried duck eggs with chile jam and house-cured bacon. Kim Westerman
Fried duck eggs with chile jam and house-cured bacon. (Kim Westerman)

Tamarind Hall: Thai Street Food in North Beach

Tamarind Hall: Thai Street Food in North Beach

An Italian friend of mine likes to say, “When in Rome, do as the Romanians do.” Over the years, this has encouraged me to seek out sushi in Italy, hamburgers in Shanghai and, most recently, Thai food in San Francisco’s North Beach, the city’s neighborhood with the greatest concentration of Italian restaurants and shops.

This lovely spot has upbeat music piped in as a backdrop for the dramatic, flavor-saturated food, modeled after chef-owner Salisa Skinner’s family cooking in their Bangkok home. Though she went off to study law, then worked for some time in intellectual property, these recipes that infused her consciousness have inspired the menu at Tamarind Hall, a dream for which she quit her day job to realize.

On the walls, giant oil paintings by Skinner’s sister Air invoke a sense of quiet power, which mirrors the food.

Chef-owner Salisa Skinner with one of her sister Air’s large oil paintings.
Chef-owner Salisa Skinner with one of her sister Air’s large oil paintings. (Kim Westerman)

There are two ways to go in planning a meal here, equally compelling. One is to make a meal of appetizers, as this section of the menu is large and designed for sharing. Or target the also-generously portioned main courses. We chose the former, simply in order to try more dishes.

We started with yum kai dao, an instant classic: two fried duck eggs topped with homemade chile jam, and house-cured bacon.

Fried duck eggs with chile jam and house-cured bacon.
Fried duck eggs with chile jam and house-cured bacon. (Kim Westerman)

Two cocktails paired beautifully with these aggressive, yet integrated, flavors: the Thai mango mojito with Bacardi mango rum, lime juice, soda and fresh mango, and the Siamese g-spot, with Cazadores blanco tequila, St. Germain, and lychee and grapefruit juices. In fact, these drinks go well with the whole menu, especially dishes that contain fish sauce and citrus, which is most of them.

Mango mojito
Mango mojito (Kim Westerman)
Siamese g-spot
Siamese g-spot (Kim Westerman)

We followed this with the mango salad, a bright, sweet green salad laden with slices of fresh mango, fried onions, cherry tomatoes, and roasted peanuts, topped with sesame-crusted anchovies. This was a good counterpoint for chicken satay, served with a mild (homemade) peanut sauce.

Mango salad with sesame-crusted anchovies.
Mango salad with sesame-crusted anchovies. (Kim Westerman)
Chicken satay with homemade peanut sauce.
Chicken satay with homemade peanut sauce. (Kim Westerman)

Perhaps the biggest hit of the night, besides the homemade mango sorbet our son ended on, was the e-saan sausage (also homemade), ground pork with lemongrass and chiles, grilled and chopped for easy tucking into crisp iceberg lettuce leaves.

Homemade e-saan sausage and stacks of iceberg lettuce leaves to roll it up in.
Homemade e-saan sausage and stacks of iceberg lettuce leaves to roll it up in. (Kim Westerman)

Fried tofu was another big hit, large cubes flash-fried, crispy on the outside and tender-soft inside. The cubes are stacked as a pyramid and sprinkled with sweet chile sauce and shredded nori.

Fried tofu pyramid.
Fried tofu pyramid. (Kim Westerman)

We were too full to consider dessert, but the seven-year-old was not, and he singlehandedly devoured the aforementioned homemade mango sorbet, delightfully presented in a frozen mango half, scooped out, the whole shebang slathered in whipped cream.

Homemade mango sorbet.
Homemade mango sorbet. (Kim Westerman)

Service is attentive and prompt, even when the place starts to fill up around 7pm.

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All in all, this is a gracious new North Beach option and a worthy alternative to the usual restaurant suspects.

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Tamarind Hall
1268 Grant Ave. [Map]
San Francisco, CA 94133
Ph: (415) 866-6337
Hours: Mon-Wed, 11:30am-2:30pm and 5-10pm; Thu-Fri, 11:30am-2:30pm and 5-midnight; Sat, 11:30am-midnight; Sun, 11:30am-10pm
Facebook: Tamarind Hall
Twitter: @TamarindHall
Instagram: tamarindhallsf
Price Range: $$ (Entrees $10-$19)

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