Whenever someone asks me for recommendations on where to eat in San Francisco, I’ll rattle off a small selection of my absolute favorite, must-visit restaurants. One of the restaurants invariably mentioned is Nari, the powerfully delicious modern Thai restaurant by chef-owner Pim Techamuanvivit.Kin Khao.
Opened in 2014 in the Parc 55 hotel in downtown San Francisco, Kin Khao was a game-changer, not only for the city, but also for the nation. The food contains multitudes — layers upon layers of flavors that are bold and in your face. But beyond pure deliciousness, there are a few big reasons why Kin Khao is one of my favorite, essential San Francisco restaurants:
1. Highly Personal, Chef-Driven Cuisine.
There are a number of notable restaurants that opened in the Bay Area throughout the 2010s that were extremely personal to the chef that celebrated their diverse heritages. Places like James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare or Ravi Kapur’s Liholiho Yacht Club or Heena Patel’s Besharam.
Kin Khao was part of this wave. These restaurants told stories through dishes. The flavors didn’t hold back, or try to meld to a diner’s palate. The chefs behind these restaurants served what they wanted, how they wanted to — and it was refreshing.
Kin Khao of course wasn’t the first or only contemporary Thai restaurant, but it was part of this special and exciting moment for restaurants and chefs in San Francisco. It showed many San Franciscans that Thai cuisine was so much more than pad Thai.
Whether you care about what a tire company has to say or not, there is one thing for certain: it sets a standard for restaurants. To earn a Michelin star is an achievement, and more than anything, it means the restaurateur cares.
And at Kin Khao, they really freakin’ care. All the curry pastes are made from scratch — no canned stuff here. Combine that with high quality local products and produce and you get some inventive, delicious dishes: fiery Khun Yai’s green curry with rabbit from Devil’s Gulch, or Plah Pla Muek featuring charred Monterey Bay squid in a balanced spicy/tangy/oceanic sauce. There’s also the creamy glossy rich rib-sticking Massaman Nuea with tender braised beef cheeks.
The menu also reads Thai first, English in parenthesis after, not the other way around. It’s unapologetic. It’s educational.
3. Proper Pricing.
A meal at Kin Khao isn’t expensive, but if you’re like me and like to order all the things, it certainly isn’t cheap — but it shouldn’t be.
Dishes are priced properly and appropriately. But more importantly, it says something. It strongly battles the idea that a certain type of cuisine has to cost less than, say, something a little bit more European. Why shouldn’t a curry cost as much, or even more, than a plate of pasta or steak frites? It is a declaration that so-called “ethnic” food doesn’t have to be low-priced.
This kind of thinking might be commonly accepted in the culture these days, but just even 10 years ago, this thought wasn’t as commonplace. A $40 curry is a good thing.
4. Sets a Standard for Hotel Restaurants.
Hotel restaurants can sometimes leave something to be desired. But Techamuanvivit has showed us that they can also be so, so good. With Nari especially, you don’t even feel like you’re in a hotel. I’ve stayed in my fair share of hotels and have had the great fortune (or misfortune) of eating meals at their respective restaurants; I can confidently say that Kin Khao and Nari are amongst the best hotel restaurants in America.
5. Pim Techamuanvivit herself.
Kin Khao wouldn’t be Kin Khao without Pim Techamuanvivit, of course. She is a lot of things. She’s a writer. She’s a jam-maker. She’s an activist. She’s got good style and impeccable taste, a oenophile that gravitates to good Burgundy (you can find some nice stuff on her lists). She has three Michelin stars between her three restaurants. Is there anything she’s not good at? But I think, most importantly, through her voice and her restaurants, she makes the culinary world a better place — in San Francisco and beyond.
Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.