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Khao San Road

Posted by Frank / Reviewed on April 6, 2011 / review policy

Khao San Road TorontoKhao San Road, Bangkok's infamous backpacker ghetto, isn't what I immediately think of when I'm jonesin' for an authentic taste of Thailand. The neighbourhood has long been a pit stop for shoestring travellers following the banana pancake trail through Asia-- a rabbit warren of hostels and expat bars full of farang looking for a cheap place to doss down, some cheap thrills and maybe a pizza slice or two to curb their hunger and homesickness. It never really endeared itself to me when I visited.

Khao San RoadSet in the bustle (or not, should you appear at 6pm on a Thursday) of the Entertainment District I assumed Jeff and Nuit Regular, (Sukhothai's proprietors and the first-couple of textbook northern Thai cuisine) chose to name their new west end canteen after the touristiest icon of the smiling kingdom as an ironic comment. Turns out the joke was on me since their motivation was as sincere and genuine as their trademark hospitality:

Khao San Road"We chose Khao San Road for a couple reasons." Jeff tells me. "One being that it's simply the gateway to Thailand for travelers. There is more than just the traditional experience to Thailand. Most restaurants like to capture the traditional feel with the buddhas and silks, which is beautiful in every sense, but we wanted to give a different glimpse of a real part of Thailand which is a travelers / backpackers perspective. We want to have more of a "restaurant in Thailand" feel rather than a "Thai restaurant in Canada" feel.

Khao San RoadTrue to Jeff's word, there's not a Buddha in the joint. Khao San Road skips Thai restaurant vernacular, speaking instead with a much more west-end accent in subdued earth tones and the occasional wooden inflection (dark for floors and distressed for tables), while a rotation of paintings from local artists adorns the far wall. It feels very urban loft and not out of place for the neighbourhood.

Khao San RoadThe flood of nightly patronage is a big part of the reason why the restaurant doesn't currently accept phone reservations (and you should show up in person to order take out for that matter). Even at 6:30 on a Thursday you'll be placing your Singha ($6) down on the bar between sips while you wait for your table. That's right, unlike Sukhothai, Khao San Road is licensed which is a nice touch since I rather enjoy a beer with my pad thai or curry.

Anyone familiar at all with the card at Sukhothai will immediately recognize the signature depth of flavour that accompanies the curries at KSR. Generally not a fan of green curry (I find most versions in town unrefined, overcompensating with heat to mask a lack of flavour), Nuit's is something special I'd gladly cross town for ($12 with a side of steamed rice). Generous chunks of chicken, crunchy green bell pepper and bamboo shoot ribbons are bathed in a creamy sauce rich with coconut notes giving way to a mix of kafir lime leaf smoky chili, galangal, and lemongrass. Each taste just different enough from the last to keep your palate thoroughly entertained.

Khao San RoadThe mellower, yellow Massaman curry ($13 with a side of steamed rice) is equally complex and adds potatoes and, in our case chicken, for a thai take on stew sure to warm the winteriest of hearts. A similar creamy curry backbones the addictive broth bathing the chewy egg noodles of our chicken khao soi.

Khao San RoadThe minced beef with basil and a fried egg (Pad Gra Prao, $13) would be a welcome addition to any brunch. And the only thing missing from the street style pad thai ($13) is the ketchup since Nuit's real-deal version is the identical to what you'd find at hawker stalls and night markets from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui. Our perfectly cooked rice noodles are stir-fried in the traditional tamarind, fish sauce, chilli and palm sugar dressing topped and with chicken, scrambled egg, sprouts and green onion. Sweet, sour, spicy, salty and definitely tastier than the sum of its parts.

Khao San RoadJeff informs me that Nuit likes including one or two things on the menu that are classic Thai but aren't readily available anywhere in the city. In KSR's case it's the insanely addictive Gra Bong squash fritters ($7). A cousin of the pakora that's sweet from the squash and spicy from a hit of red curry paste in the batter. It's crunchy deep-fried goodness and I can barely restrain the smile since eating these fritters is like discovering a new continent. Served with a sweet and sour tamarind sauce (made from scratch) a bucket of these would be the perfect accompaniment to beer and beach.

Khao San RoadMy belly full of some amazing, authentic thai cuisine, I still can't quite reconcile KSR's seemingly contradictory nature, so I'll leave Jeff to have the last word on the subject:

"[We] Also chose that name because I always thought that if I was walking down the street in Toronto and I (having travelled in Thailand) saw that name, regardless of if I loved the street or not, I would absolutely have to check it out! It would just bring back all my memories of Thailand and traveling there. Not just Khao San Road, but the whole experience. And more often than not, people have very fond memories. Its a place that kind of honors travellers with just the name alone."


Photos courtesy Aislinn Smith

Discussion

43 Comments

thainow! dielater! / April 7, 2011 at 09:27 am
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lovely article and pics, will definetly check it out
tariq / April 7, 2011 at 09:49 am
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place is as good as sukhothai. stand out dishes are the khao soi and phad thai
Steve T D / April 7, 2011 at 11:40 am
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Do they have throngs of hookers accosting customers as they arrive just like on teh real Koh San Road?
Ben G. / April 7, 2011 at 11:58 am
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Ordering take out should be done way ahead of time... I usually order lunch take out at 11:30 when they open. I think they should have a dedicated receptionist just for take out orders as when the joint is packed, they don't have enough staff to cover the phones too. That's a lot of lost revenue. Heck if it can be automated that would be cool.
lowrez / April 7, 2011 at 12:11 pm
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Awesome place. Always busy. This is a really good sign for Adelaide. I hope Adam Vaughan is able to make it a 2-way street again.
beep / April 7, 2011 at 12:22 pm
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owrez / APRIL 7, 2011 AT 12:11 PM

...Adelaide. I hope Adam Vaughan is able to make it a 2-way street again.
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that is not a good idea
Kent / April 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm
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UGH. Now I'm going to have wait even longer for a table. Thanks for nothing, BTO.
Emma / April 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm
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Sigh... memories of Thailand are flooding back now!

Must. Go. Immediately.
sam c / April 7, 2011 at 12:51 pm
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do they have som tam?
Roger / April 7, 2011 at 01:04 pm
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10 minute wait at the door before I was even acknowledged. They seem to be victims of their own early success.
duncan / April 7, 2011 at 01:24 pm
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been there once on opening week... i find sukhothai just as good if not better and it also seems cheaper.
duncan / April 7, 2011 at 01:25 pm
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Kent:


Everybody knew about this place already. It is always hard to get a table.
duncan / April 7, 2011 at 01:27 pm
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Also,

While I would rate the food at sukhothai 5/5, the service is very bad and I have had numerous bad experiences.... (waiting 40 minutes when told 5, waiting 2.5 hours on delivery!!! 2.5!!!!) and just overall slowness but their food is good. service 1/5...

will still go because the food is so good
Rocky / April 7, 2011 at 10:50 pm
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LOVED IT! Best Thai food I've had in a while.
MissTdot / April 8, 2011 at 08:06 am
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Move over Salad King !!
Kent replying to a comment from duncan / April 8, 2011 at 08:24 pm
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Duncan, you fucking nitwit!
LZak / April 9, 2011 at 10:04 am
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Tried out Khao San Road last night and unfortunately my high hopes were quickly broken...

Our party of four arrived together at 6 pm (on a Friday evening) and we were asked if we had made a reservation. Apparently they do take reservations now and unfortunately we had not. We were told it could be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour for a table - quite the estimate! Fortunately a reserved party did not show up, so with the help of the host, we snagged their table within 20 minutes of our arrival.

As a huge fan of Sukhothai I could not wait to try out Khao San Road's menu. We started with the Gra Bong which was definitely the highlight of the meal - I highly recommend the fluffy squash fritters. Unfortunately the rest of our meal and experience quickly went sour. After ordering our main, our table waited for at least 45 minutes before our waitress informed us that they "ran out" of rice noodles for the two pad thai dishes that we ordered. We were given two options - wait another 20 minutes for rice noodles or we could have vermicelli right away. Despite really wanting rice noodles, we settled for the vermicelli so the rest of our party could satisfy their grumbling stomachs. After another 20 minutes, the meals arrived including a chicken vermicelli pad thai (Sam Roas style) and sans a vegan vermicelli pad thai. I gave the go-ahead to my friends to eat despite not having a dish in front of me. I wondered how a chicken pad thai could be made faster than a tofu pad thai? After another 20 minutes, I still did not have my meal so I flagged my waitress down. She apologized and looked as though she had unapologetically forgot about the dish all together.

My much anticipated vegan pad thai had finally arrived with vermicelli noodles after an additional 15 minutes. By this time I was so pissed about the horrible service that my appetite had quickly diminished. The flavors were nice (but definitely not as spicy as ordered), the tofu was cooked well, but glass noodles in pad thai? Well, it just didn't pan out. Luckily I am not actually a vegetarian, as there were remnants of chicken throughout the dish. The consistency was so wrong that after a few bites, I gave up on both my dish and Khao San Road.

Between the time we had all finished our meals and the point in which our waitress delivered the bill, it took about 45 minutes. The ever-growing mass of people at the door hovered over our table like hungry hyenas while we desperately tried to square up our bill and get out. Something tells me that despite their Sukhothai grass roots, Khao San Road should seriously invest in a team of professional management. The food was a disappointment, the service was horrible, and the turn-over rate was painfully slow.

I am not one to write restaurant reviews - good or bad, but my disheartening dining experience last night left me no choice. Hopefully Khao San Road can fix their wrongs before this newbie joint goes under.


Adam / April 11, 2011 at 09:42 am
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Lzak:

I'm sorry to hear about your bad experience but as someone who is a long time patron of SukoThai and Khao San Road (albeit it's only been open for a month) I have to say that as someone who frequents restaurants a lot, you can't let one bad experience jade your view of a restaurant forever. Sure, there are bound to be bad experiences at every restaurant every once in a while and its unfortunate it happened to you but every time I have been to KSR I have been treated graciously and given the exact dishes I have ordered. The food is without a doubt the best thai food in Toronto (bar none) and that alone is worth having to wait all that time. I think that after their success at SukoThai, Jeff didn't really know how big KSR would be. Had he known of their immediate success, I'm sure they would have bought/rented/leased a much bigger place because god knows they turn down a lot of business from people who don't want to wait that long. I think the only thing we can hope for is that Jeff opens up several more restaurants around Toronto, which would help with the significant customer base they are quickly attaining.

Jenn / April 12, 2011 at 10:11 am
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Ended up here last night after reading this review- everything looked and sounded so tasty and KSR did not disappoint. My friend and I went fairly early to avoid waiting for a table (around 6) and we were sat immediately (only a few other tables had guests). We each ordered a Singha ($6 each for a bottle) and the Gra Bong to start (which was amazing, but arrived only 2 minutes before our mains...apparently there are some timing issues to sort out). I had the chicken Khao Soi, which was delicious (and large!) but I found the 'medium spicy' to be fairly hot. My dinner mate had the chicken pad thai (not the street style) and also enjoyed it (but later found two small hairs in it...) I think this restaurant serves up great thai food, has attentive staff, but still has a few kinks to sort out.
lowrez / April 19, 2011 at 03:05 pm
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The food is fantastic, but they really have some kinks to work out. I think they're rather overwhelmed by the amount of business they're getting. They ran out of noodles one night when I was there. Rofl.

I think it's too busy for it's own good. Picture Burrito Boyz amount of patronage in a sit-down non-fastfood establishment. Bound to experience problems.
Bette / July 16, 2011 at 05:59 pm
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Ate here on a busy Friday night and absolutely loved it. Worth whatever wait they put in front you--the Gra Bong (fried squash fritters), shrimp pad thai, and yellow currie were mouth-watering. Special shout out to our upbeat, lightening quick, and hilarious server & bartender Sun-hi / Sunny. She made our night!
T / December 23, 2011 at 10:40 pm
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I ordered take out after reading the reviews. Went to pick up my pad thai and green curry chicken and could barely get through the door it was so busy...(always a good sign). Our food was amazing, a bit pricey for the portion size, but it was so delicious it didnt matter...yum!
James / January 22, 2012 at 10:47 pm
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Place looks great, but Frank you sound like a huge douche-bag know it all, I feel so sorry for the poor chaps who sit through a dinner with you!
Vaclav / March 22, 2012 at 10:48 am
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Yesterday I was trying to make a reservation for my mother's birthday. She like Thai food very much and I thought we should try this place. I spent one hour on the phone but no one was picking - just an automated voice message saying they don't take reservation over the voice mail so please call again during business hours (I was calling during those hours) - and then I spent an hour going to the place only to be met by two cold staff behind the cash who couldn't even give a flying f@#$. I explained the situation and they said they met the number for reservation and they won't add another one and said you can come and wait in line. It wasn't that they did have empty tables but they wouldn't reserve it for me that made me upset but the way the dealt with the situation. I suggested if that's the way they deal with reservation at least they should have the courtesy to answer their phone so some poor customer like me won't spend two hours trying to book a table. So since I didn't get the table I don't know how is the food but their lack of helpfulness plus the smugness made me very uncomfortable as I pleaded for a table.
mr s / April 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm
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I went to this place after a friend from work recommended it to me, and I loved everything about it. Amazing! This place would be perfect for a date. Great music - everything from 50s classics to roots reggae (in one sitting!), quick and very knowledgeable staff, and truly tasty flavourful food. My tongue was in a bit of a shock well after the meal.
thaifoodlover / June 26, 2012 at 10:31 am
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Went to Khao San Road last night after seeing it on this page. While the food was great, the wait was unbearable. For a 2 person table, we waited 45mins even though there were clearly free tables available. The staff was very unaccommodating. We were almost late for our 8pm show despite showing up at the restaurant for 6:15pm.

If you're going to eat the delicious food here, go during their down hours between the lunch and dinner rush (so go between 1pm & 5:30pm).
taylor / December 8, 2012 at 07:08 pm
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WHAT IS WITH THEIR TAKE OUT LINE?

An automated voice that says to stay on the line as they connect you - a wait of 5 seconds and another automated voice to say they couldn't connect me? I've just called 7 times in a row.

Love this place's food and understand their whole reservation policy, but this is totally ridiculous. Pick up your phone Khao San Road, you're losing business!
cjr replying to a comment from LZak / February 10, 2013 at 04:55 pm
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Lzak:

So, adding up the time of your meal, it took you 3 and a half hours to eat? I know that's bullshit, so everyone may as well ignore this review. Who would wait nearly 4 hours? hahah
Tamar / April 11, 2013 at 08:39 am
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Once you actually get a table, the food and service is exceptional. Highly recommended.
Tamar / April 11, 2013 at 08:41 am
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Mu suggestion for getting a table is to put your name down, go somewhere nearby and grab a couple drinks, then come back around your seated time for your table. The host also will call your cell to notify you when your table is ready.
You just need to be prepared to wait a few hours. I know it's ridiculous, but that has to be your mentality when going to this resto.
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Marlys / June 8, 2013 at 09:42 pm
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What you published was actually very logical. However, think about this, what if you added a little information?
I am not suggesting your information isn't solid., however suppose you added something that grabbed a person's
attention? I mean Khao San Road is kinda vanilla.
You ought to glance at Yahoo's front page and note how they create post titles to grab viewers to open the links. You might try adding a video or a picture or two to get people excited about what you've
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more interesting.
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Farang / June 16, 2013 at 01:46 pm
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Wait time: Nightmare
Service: Terribly Rude
Food: Nothing to write home about
Price: OK
Overall: Overrated

Next!
Ellie / June 25, 2013 at 11:08 am
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Is there a set menu for dinner?
Alice / October 29, 2013 at 12:37 pm
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A long time fan of Suknothai, I finally decided to grab dinner here with a few friends. I had some doubts about the food since chef Nuit left the restaurant, but went in with optimism. We went on a monday evening, and the place was packed. The wait for a table wasn't long at all however, and the service, which I'd read was notoriously sub-par, was actually very good. My friend's shrimp was undercooked, but the dish was re-made without hesitation. The food was very similar to Suknothai's - the Tom Yum soup was every bit as delicious and deeply flavourful as I'd hoped and the Khao Soi lived up to all the rave reviews I'd read about it.
Blake / December 15, 2013 at 02:21 pm
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This place has officially gone to sh*t. I was surprised that ever since Chef Nuit left a year ago they were able to more-or-less replicate her recipes so exactly for so long, but now that they've brought in a new chef, who has presented a "new menu," the food is total mediocrity, just innocuous thai food that you'd expect from any average thai hole in the wall joint. For the good old days of Khao San Road, head over to either of the Sukhothai locations where Nuit's presence still exists. I also hear Nuit and co. are opening a new joint early 2014 somewhere near Khao San Road, so that ought to finally put KSR's drop in quality into much-needed perspective.
Over-hyped / December 15, 2013 at 07:35 pm
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As someone who has dined at least 25 times at Khao San Road over a period of 2 years, I have to say I don't care at all for this restaurant. At first, I went because of all the early hype. Then I continued to go because I told myself I actually enjoyed the food. I continued to go once that belief started to fade because of all the "best of" lists the restaurant appears on (seemingly verifying the early hype), and because of various friends who wanted to go. Now, none of these reasons are enough.

I don't think I actually like the food that much, in retrospect. It's a bit addictive because of all the grease / frying oil and salt and the whack-load of chilli in their dishes. The Khao Soi had me going back for more, but once the restaurant started getting long line ups out the door, I went a few weeks without it, and I actually started to get sickened by the thought of the dishes. In that time, I ate at other Thai restaurants (I won't say which, so as not to seem like I am advertising for them), and I realized that their fare was much lighter and more subtle than the Khao San Road stuff.

The biggest turn off for me is the line-up policy. I don't mind having no reservations and being told to form a line. What I do mind is when they allow their friends to skip ahead, so they can be seated at the best seats. This happened at least three times. I was willing to overlook it after the first two times, but...

I haven't been back in almost 6 months, and I don't plan to.
fizza / April 16, 2014 at 05:06 pm
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Does khan sao road halal food?
mowhameed replying to a comment from fizza / June 13, 2014 at 07:32 pm
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They serve halal pork. But why does that matter?
JIMMY / July 31, 2014 at 07:35 pm
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Unbelievable horrible service! they think they have a wonderful business so they can ignore customer feelings.
We were 3 people walked in, the front girl want us to share a corner of the big table with other 6 customers. Frankly, the space was not enough to put 3 big plates. So we ask to move to a 4-people table, there were 2 empty table back there. The server denied our request and said: This is the only thing I can give u or u can wait another 40min. After we sit down, My friend got a phone call from his girlfriend who wish to join us, when she came and took a sit, the same server came and showed her poker face and said: SORRY YOU CAN NOT COME AND SIT LIKE THIS, YOU HAVE TO WAIT IN THE LINE!. The line she talking about was a couple who waiting for a table for 2. That was such a embarrassment. My friend have to say," I won't odder any food, I just sit here, is that ok?" Then she said: SORRY, BUT IT IS OUR POLICY, YOU HAVE TO RESPECT OUR POLICY.
OK. Not pay any tip for such horrible service is my policy as well, you have to respect that.
Will never come back again.

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