Based on a now months-old recommendation from the board, I finally tried this place on Friday. I'm so frequently disappointed with Thai restaurants that I didn't have very high expectations (which is probably why I've never eaten there even though it's just blocks from my home).
The restaurant is at International at 6th Avenue. You walk a few steps up from the sidewalk to a smallish, clean, spare room with about 8 booths and 10 tables. There are large windows on all sides, so you get plenty of natural light as you eat. The menu is pretty straightforward: angel wings, satay, fish cake and other appetizers, various soups, various salads, curries, noodle and rice plates. We ordered basic stuff, but the daily specials (some kind of whole fish in sour curry paste, among other more exotic fare) sounded tempting.
Service was prompt and friendly, though it lagged a bit towards the end of the meal, as the place became more crowded. One guy was serving all of the tables--the place was about half-full by the time we left.
What we ate:
Fish cakes. These are described on the menu as "fish cake patties seasoned with corp paste and green beans." I'm glad I didn't actually read the description until just now. Corp paste? These were dark golden brown and crispy on the outside--just out of the fryer. The inside was pink and bouncy-chewy and fairly bland, but not in a bad way. They came with an oily chile/peanut sauce that was tasty. Very fresh carrot and cabbage julienne on the side.
Chicken satay. This was seriously delicious satay--coconutty from a marinade and very tender. These also came with a non-goopy peanut sauce, along with a small bowl of cucumber relish. I am an avowed cuke hater, but I love Thai vinegary-sweet cuke relish. This one crunchy and not too sweet--the perfect foil for the satay.
BBQ Eggplant Salad. This came on a large oval plate, ringed by 2" slices of skinny Asian eggplants, which were grilled then stripped of their skins. My first bite of the eggplant was, well, deliciously eggplant-y. Seems like eggplant is drowned by other flavors too often, but not here. Slightly smoky, herbaceous and falling-apart tender.... In the center of the plate was some combination of ground chicken, cilantro, whole shrimp, chiles and something else--cabbage maybe--with sweet lime/nam pla dressing. This was very good. But, as the victims from the Angkor Borei dinner know, I'm a sucker for salads.
Spicy fried rice with beef. I don't know why we ordered this--I think I was just craving fried rice. It was surprisingly good--bits of eggs, red and green peppers, some mushrooms, lots of big, tender slices of beef and LOTS of tiny rings of bird's eye chiles. HOT! I was pretty full by this point, so I only had a few bites, but it was truly delicious the next day. Perfect fried rice. However, I would choose pork or chicken in the future--the beef was incongruous.
Our meal was quite good, and cheap (everything on the menu is $5.95-$7.95). I wouldn't necessarily compare it to Ruen Pair, but I am delighted to have it nearby--I can imagine ordering takeout once a week. It's not really a destination place, but if you're in Oakland, I'd recommend trying it. They seemed to be doing a healthy take-out business when we were there.
Asia Thai Noodle Cafe
10:00 am - 9:30 pm
545B International Blvd.