Anyone been to "Rin's Thai Restaurant" recently, and have any thoughts? They're on the corner of 24th and Douglass, a stones throw away from Firefly Restaurant. In my opinion, they beat Swatdee Thai (a block or so down the street) hands down.
For many years, they were more or less a neighborhood Thai takeout restaurant, with the typical big menu of just about anything Thai and sorta Chinese you could imagine. You would never see too many people dining inside, although if you did dine in, you would see the brisk take-out business. Food was good, but nothing to blow you away. Just a solid local neighborhood Thai restaurant, and that's what most people still think of when they hear about Rin's.
However, around the fall of 2005 or so, I believe they changed ownership or decided to do a drastic makeover. The decades old dirty white walls were painted a dramatic dark purple/red color. The tables and chairs were also re-painted or upgraded. The exterior, however, still remains the same.
And the menu changed.
Prices were upped a few dollars per dish, and the number of dishes were consolidated into 2 simple pages in a small fancy black folder, almost like the folder you get with your meal check. Many items removed, and many new items added. Best way to describe the new menu? I would categorizie is as Thai / Asian / California.
A negative? The menu is very much lacking in descriptions. So you really don't know what you'll get until you try it, or at least ask for more info.
Some of my favorite dishes:
"Hand pulled roti with satay sauce" - Flaky flat roti bread with nice grill marks, cut into little pizza like wedges, served along side a spicy sweet peanut sauce. Don't let them take away the sauce once you're done with the roti. Keep it around to use on your rice.
"Green papaya salad" - the usual dish you find in most Thai restaurants, but the balance of sweet, salty and sour is what this restaurant does very well. Dishes here are not very spicy unless you request it. Not sure why, but so many Thai restaurants just don't get the balance right.
"Crispy rice salad" - do you like the crispy rice you find stuck at the bottom of bi bim bop served in a hot cast iron bowl? Then you would probably like this, one of my favorite dishes in the Bay Area. Again, no description on the menu, but closest visual match is maybe fried rice. The dish consists of clumps of crispy/chewy rice tossed with crushed peanuts, slivers of red onions or shallots, with just the right balance of sweet, sour, and salty seasoning. The balance leans to the tangy and savory side. Not sure if they used any egg yolk, but there is a certain "richness" to the little clumps of crispy/chews rice, although it's not at all oily. The rice is then served alongside a big pile of lettuce leaves, cilantro, and mint. Take a lettuce leaf, add some rice, herbs, wrap it up, eat it, and enjoy. Never seen any other restaurant with this style of dish, so please post the restaurant if you have!
"Green mango salad with fried fish" - never seen this dish anywhere else either. It's similar to green papaya salad. But this one is made from julienned strips of green mangos, which results in a sweeter flavor profile. This dish is then topped with little pieces of fish fried in a cruncy batter that adds a wonderful complimentary texture.
There are other items on Rin's menu that range from traditional to untraditional, but most everything is executed well. Kalbi beef (Korean style ribs), Firecracker chicken (i.e. ground chicken in lettuce cups), a good solid pad Thai, are just some other examples.
Just to let you know whether my palate matches yours with regards to Thai, I believe Ruin Pair in Albany is one of the best in SF area. Rin's dishes are less traditional and no where near as spicy. And as mentioned earlier, I would categorize Rin's a little more California Asian with an emphasis on Thai.
Is this a destination restaurant? No. They have minimal ambiance even after the makeover (and people still walk in and out to pick up their take out orders). But the people who work there are some of the nicest people anywhere, with the service to match.
Rin's Restaurants is now an even better neighborhood restaurant than the old Rin's, so if you happen to be in the Noe Valley area and you're just looking for very good food executed well with a creative Thai menu (and Firefly Restaurant just happens to be packed), this place is highly recommended.