Ratana Bowden grew up working in her family’s restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, before moving on to a corporate job in electronics. She married an American and moved to Santa Cruz 17 years back. After taking time to enjoy living in the United States, she found herself wanting to open a Thai restaurant here. In 2012 when she was offered ownership of Real Thai Kitchen. The menu is classic Thai food based on passed-down family recipes. Egg and spring rolls, chicken satay and lettuce wraps highlight the starters, and they have wonderful Thai soups like hot and sour, tom kha, ginger and wonton. The papaya salad, a favorite both here and in Thailand, is another can’t-miss item. The noodle dishes are headlined by a traditional pad Thai as well as pad see ew, with choice of proteins. Also, almost every dish on the menu can be made vegetarian or vegan. The crowd-pleaser dessert is another classic favorite: mango sticky rice with coconut milk. Hours are 11am-2:30pm and 5-9pm on weekdays (until 9:30pm Fri), and 12-9:30pm on Sat/Sun.
What are the four “S’s” of Thai cuisine?
RATANA BOWDEN: Salty, sweet, sour and spicy. Some dishes have all four, but many dishes have only two to three. When you eat Thai food, the taste is not boring because all these flavors combine and are fun to eat. And a common misconception is that all Thai food is spicy. But sometimes, it’s not, and even when it is, the spice is balanced by other flavors. And Thai food is also fun because it is shareable with everyone else at the table, and is meant to be enjoyed this way so that guests can try many different dishes.
What is your vision for Real Thai Kitchen?
RB: I want it to be like a second kitchen for our guests when they don’t feel like cooking. That’s one reason why our food isn’t expensive and we focus on making it very affordable. When people eat at the restaurant, I want them to feel like they are eating at home and feel very comfortable, and we always try our best to give great service.