New tropical Thai American restaurant opens in Oakland

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A contemporary American Thai restaurant opens in Oakland this summer with a tropical vibe, cocktails, and a seasonal menu from the chef behind San Francisco’s popular Isaan Thai Intu-on pop-up.

Called Jo’s Modern Thai, the restaurant is slated to open on July 1 in the former Miliki space at 3725 MacArthur Boulevard in the Laurel District. Oakland-native owner Kao Saelee whose family has run Berkeley Thai’s low-key restaurant, Racha Cafe for 16 years, envisions a fun, upbeat space with booze and a tight menu of unexpectedly prepared Thai food.

The pad thai will be accompanied by soft-shell crab or lobster instead of traditional shrimp ($ 18), for example, while the spicy pad kee mao could be ordered with sautéed spaghetti instead of rice noodles, as well as Oakland Smokin ‘Woods BBQ Smoked Breast ($ 18).

“Ultimately this restaurant concept arose out of the fact that I was a Thai American and grew up with a different palate,” said Saelee, who named the restaurant after his fiancee. “I wanted to create a place that people will come to, have a good time and not say, ‘I went to this Thai place and it was hard to make a decision. “”

The menu was designed by chef Intu-on Kornnawong, who cooked at Michelin-starred Kin Khao before drawing an audience for his fiery and funky pop-up dishes during the pandemic – though she wasn’t. the daily chef at Jo’s.

“It’s Thai food to drink but not specific in what type of food – Bangkok, Isaan, that’s all that’s cool,” Kornnawong said.

Some dishes will look quite traditional, but highlight a protein that other local Thai restaurants probably don’t use. Think tom kha, the creamy coconut soup often seen with chicken swirled with clams ($ 19), or a sweet and sour red curry made with pork cheek ($ 21). On the more creative end of the spectrum, there’s a burger stuffed with Isaan-style fried pork laab and kaffir lime mayonnaise ($ 16).

The restaurant space, with around 40 seats inside and 25 in a back patio, will be outfitted in pastel pinks, blues and greens. Palm tree wallpaper, terrazzo tiles and mixed textiles give it a modern touch, as imagined by ROY designers, known for trendy San Francisco spots like Wildseed, SPQR and Media Noche. Kornnawong said it reminded him of restaurants near the beach in southern Thailand.

For drinking, there will be cocktails from Laurel Robinson, who has consulted for San Francisco’s top bars like Trick Dog, and natural wine, exclusively from minority and women-owned wineries. The restaurant starts off with just dinner, though Saelee hopes to add weekend lunch and brunch down the line.

This should be a surprisingly different type of Thai restaurant for Oakland, where most Thai places are low-key moms and pops with similar menus. Of Chronicle Soleil Ho reviewer’s picks for the best Thai restaurants in the Bay Area, only one can be found in Oakland: Vientian Cafe, which actually specializes in Laotian dishes. Others on the short list of eight items include Kornnawong’s Intu-on pop-up and the former workplace of chef, Kin Khao, suggesting serious promises for Jo’s.

Jo’s modern Thai. Opening July 1st. 3725 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland. www.instagram.com/josoakland

Janelle Bitker is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]

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