Pacific Thai has been serving up its namesake cuisine on its namesake street in the heart of downtown for 15 years.
Owner Sam Kurita left a previous career in high tech because he wanted to own a local business and be closer to family, and he attributes much of the restaurant’s success to his employees. They are open from noon-8pm every day except Wednesday for takeout and outdoor seating. GT caught up with Kurita to talk about the food that makes his eatery such a mainstay.
Where do your recipes come from?
SAM KURITA: Originally we had several Thai chefs, and over the years we’ve adopted, adapted, and standardized the recipes. They are mostly traditional Northern Thai dishes; we try to make them not as sweet as other Americanized Thai food. And as far as spiciness and dietary concerns and restrictions, we’re very adaptable and willing to customize our menu for our guests when possible.
What are some of the most popular dishes?
Pad Thai is kind of the dish that everyone starts with. We make it from tamarind paste and our own ingredients to boost the umami flavor. It’s both sweet and sour, and we can make it spicier if the guest prefers. We also serve Tom Kah. “Kah” means galangal, which is a rhizome similar to ginger, but earthier in flavor. It has kaffir lime, lemongrass, coconut milk, and choice of protein. For dessert, when in season, our mango sticky rice is also a big hit. It’s unique in that it’s a purple rice because we use a black sticky rice and white sticky rice combination, and it’s in a sweetened coconut syrup. We were also one of the first Thai restaurants in Santa Cruz to serve Thai tea with boba, which are tapioca balls. We’re well known for that, and now a lot of local Thai restaurants offer it, too.
What are a couple of the most authentic dishes?
The Kra Prao Gai Sap, which is basically a basil Thai chicken stir fry. It comes with baby corn, bell peppers, zucchini, green beans, onions, and chili in a spicy garlic oyster sauce, and is finished with sweet Thai basil and an optional Thai fried egg. Another really authentic dish is the chicken satay. It is chicken skewers marinated in curry, coconut milk, and Thai spices, then charbroiled and served with housemade peanut sauce and cucumber salad.
1319 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. 831-420-1700, pacificthaisantacruz.com.