Thai River in Petaluma offers patio oasis
During a recent heat spell, we went looking to cool our heels while enjoying dinner outside. Thinking across some of our favorite patios for dining, one popped up immediately. With its riverfront location and leafy tree coverage, Thai River offers both shade and a breeze. It also happens to have some of our favorite dishes, with one of the friendliest staffs in town.
Sitting just across the Petaluma River from the likes of Seared and Brewsters, on the northeast corner of the Washington Street Bridge, Thai River can get overlooked, even though it’s just a stone’s throw from the downtown corridor. That means, whether visiting for lunch or dinner, there is rarely a wait for seating at Thai River, at least for now. Less than a 5 minute walk from Western Avenue and the Boulevard, whenever we run into a wait of more than 15 or 20 minutes at our first restaurant choice, we head over to see Louise at Thai River, where we know we’ll get a spectacular meal.
Sawaluck Linglet may not sound familiar to most, but she has a flavorful history with Petaluma and may be better recognized as “Louise,” the former owner of Thai Ginger, which wowed guests in the tiny space now occupied by Speakeasy in Helen Putnam Plaza. Louise’s cult followers will be happy to know that many of Thai Ginger’s specialities made the menu at Thai River.
Louise’s roots in Thai cuisine run deep, having been born in a restaurant family in Thailand.
“Food and service are in my blood,” she said with a warm smile.
She moved to the US in 2000 because she was looking for something new and as luck would have it, found her way to Petaluma. She opened Thai Ginger in 2003 and quickly became an anchor restaurant at Helen Putnam Plaza. Looking for a change, she sold Thai Ginger in 2011.
Louise then opened Thai Bistro in Novato, but she missed her Petaluma customers. Like Thai Ginger, Thai Bistro was an award-winning restaurant but Louise saw a chance to return to Petaluma when Romeo’s Pizza closed, thus opening a riverfront restaurant space. She was so excited to be back, she opened Thai River within one week of taking possession of the new location.
Little has changed since our first visit to Thai River, which is somehow comforting. The dining room is clean and calm. At first, we assumed the patio would be noisy, what with its proximity to Washington Street, but it has become a favorite oasis. In the summer months, the breeze that dances across the water, mixed with the shade of the trees, keeps the patio pleasant even on the warmest days. On chilly nights, just grab a table close to the outdoor heaters.
Dogs are allowed in the outdoor patio although with no gate available, Fido would have to be handed over the fence. (Only service dogs can be walked through the dining room.)
A recent CNN online poll asked which dishes are the most delicious around the world. Thai cuisine accounted for three of the top 50, with Massaman curry voted as the world’s most delicious dish. Massaman curry uses star anise and cloves, spices uncommon in Thai cuisine. Som tam, a salad made from tart green papayas, ranked 46th. Tom yum, a hot and sour soup, ranked eighth.
Thai River offers iterations of all three of these popular plates, depending on whether you dine there for lunch or dinner. Consider adding chicken, veggies or shrimp to the tom yum, while the curries come in the three basic styles - green, red and yellow. Thai River also has peanut curry, duck curry, panang curry and, a crowd favorite, pumpkin curry. All curries include a choice of chicken, beef, pork or tofu, with prawn, seafood or duck available for a slight upcharge. Rice is included with lunch curries, with brown or coconut available for an additional dollar while dinner curries are larger portions that don’t include rice, which can be added for $2.
When it comes to lunch, Thai River offers a particularly excellent special. It comes with a garden salad and steamed rice and your choice of either two ($10.95) or three ($12.95) main items including the curry of the day, pad Thai noodles and/or imperial rolls, which are stuffed with shrimp and chicken.
Spiciness can be a hot button issue with Thai food. We all have a different tolerances, but some cannot handle any spice whatsoever. However, where many restaurants say they can cook without spice, Thai River delivers. Even with the heat turned down, the dishes remain full of flavor. Thai River can also cook any dish vegetarian, vegan or gluten free, except for the egg rolls.
When ordering, I know that everything will be excellent, so I let others make the calls. Because of this, each visit reveals new dishes that I might not have ordered for myself. Several standouts include the pumpkin curry, pineapple fried rice and anything made with salmon.
And do not even think of missing out on dessert. I find that the places that I expect the least from when it comes to dessert tend to surprise me the most and Thai River falls squarely in that category. This time around, we enjoyed both the fried banana and coconut ice cream and the sticky rice with mango.
Another thing that keeps us coming back is the stellar service. Louise is genuinely happy to see guests, is attentive but not overbearing. Even online, the ordering is simple yet specific down to the spice.
This local gem will continue to thrive thanks to its fresh ingredients, beautiful plates, delicious recipes and hands-on ownership.