Rochelle McCune | Feb 27, 200207:34 PM     1

Denizens of the Lower Haight got a new restaurant yesterday - Chilli Cha Cha Thai - located at 494 Haight Street. Alas, this is a somewhat cursed location; it's been a Middle Eastern Restaurant, a Fish 'n Chips place, and a Falafel joint.

We got the menu/flyer on our door last week. With 85 items on the menu, it looked interesting and quite inexpensive. The next closest Thai restaurant to the Haight/Fillmore nexus is Thep Phenom which started out as a cheap local's Thai joint but now, 10 years later, it is an expensive "destination" restaurant. Thus, it would be great to have a place for those of us too lazy to walk to Thai House.

Disclosure: Michael & I enjoy good Thai food but we are not as educated or as passionate about it as some other cuisines (BBQ, for example).

Since it was opening night our expectations were low, but we went anyway to check it out. Bottom line: The jury is still out but it will probably be a perfectly acceptable local's spot.

The interior is touched up but not much has changed from the Falafel Place's décor. It's your basic long rectangle storefront with the cooking/ordering/paying area on the left, an eating bar on the right and tables in the back. There is table service.

For dinner, we order some base-line foods to compare with our other fav Thai places:
Appetizer - crispy tofu with sweet sauce $4.75 - lots of tofu, sweet sauce was too sweet should have been spicier (we could have fixed this if our waitress had brought us the spice condiment that other tables got).
Soup - Tom Kha Ta-Lay $5.75 - huge bowl of seafood in coconut milk soup w/ mushrooms, onion, galanga, lemongrass and lime juice. This was pretty good. There was a couple of white fish ball things that were boring & kinda weird texture-wise. Also, next time we would order it hotter. (Waitress said they had four heats - Mild, Medium, Regular, Hot. We thought regular was hotter than medium because of the order she stated them in. But then we heard her tell the table next to us "Mild, Regular, Medium, Hot").
Main Course - Pad Thai $5.75 - quite nice though once again it was too mild. By this time we had gotten condiments so we were able to spice it up.
Salad - Cucumber Salad $1.00 - too sweet & syrupy, not enough vinegar or heat. I know it's only a little side item, but I love a good cucumber salad - if it has the right balance of sweet/sour & cool/hot, it is an astonishing dish. Any Thai place that can make a beautiful cucumber salad would have my unending loyalty. Thep Phenom used to make the perfect cucumber salad but they changed their recipe about four years ago and now it's not worth eating. Oh well.
Drinks - Thai Iced Tea $1.50 - pretty much impossible to mess up. yum, yum.

The meal came to $20 w/o tip. It was decent fresh food. We will give them a few weeks to get on their feet and then give them another try. I doubt they will transcend into "destination restaurant" status, but they should develop into a good alternative to other low-to-mid-range restaurants in the neighborhood.

What was really crazy was that the place was packed the entire time we were there. There was even a line for tables at one point. Plus there were to-go orders going out the door at least every five minutes. There were 7 people working. They were all running at full speed. All through dinner, we were trying to figure it out - the Falafel place never had more than two/three tables of customers at a time. Was it that the 'hood has been starving for a cheap Thai place? Was the timing of the flyers perfect or did they do some other marketing? Who knows, but they seemed quite nice and I hope they make it.

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