If you've been in the neighborhood a bit, you probably know about Thep Phanom, the quaint and unassuming Thai restaurant on the ground floor of a Victorian building at Fillmore and Waller. While nearby House of Thai 2 is located on Haight's commercial strip, in a location that's seen a lot of Thai turnover (in recent years, it's been home to Sweet Basil, Terrific Thai and Chilli Cha Cha), Thep Phanom has held down the quiet corner at 400 Waller for almost three decades.
Accolades covering the windows shield the restaurant's interior from view, so it’s hard to know what awaits inside. But don’t let that discourage you—peek into the restaurant, and you'll see neatly folded napkins and little stone Buddhas.
The restaurant is publicly celebrating 30 years of business (albeit a little early—the official anniversary is March 24th, 2016). Three decades is an eternity in San Francisco small-business years, and change has been the only constant.
Thep Phanom is owned by Panita Parirnont, and her daughter Rungthip Tanphanich is the restaurant's manager. According to the owners and staff, composed mostly of the Thai family which lives upstairs, the area around their restaurant has transformed from a sketchy, parking-abundant residential area to a safer, more bustling destination for young professionals.
But the Lower Haight's rising economic tides haven't necessarily helped Thep Phanom. The restaurant enjoyed overwhelming business until about ten years ago, when families started to migrate out of the Lower Haight. "We used to get lines out the door," said Tanphanich.
Back then, Thep Phanom had long communal tables and mostly served large parties, most of whom ordered more than they could eat and stayed for hours. These days, the restaurant serves a lot of young people, dining solo or in pairs. “We still fill up, but people just come, order a few dishes and leave quickly," said Tanphanich.
To better serve their new clientele, Thep Phanom has introduced Thai “tapas,” a selection of the restaurant’s most popular menu items that are half the size. This gives small parties the freedom to try an array of dishes. Tanphanich suggests starting with the salt and pepper beef and the lemongrass salad, then finishing with the restaurant’s point of pride: “The Dancing Lady” (jumbo prawns stuffed with crab meat in a garlic sauce). Fried quail, or “Birds of Paradise,” is also a staff favorite. Of course, Thep Phanom also offers all the standards, like pad Thai, mango sticky rice and assorted curries.
Despite what the banner outside suggests, the restaurant will not extend any special deals until their official anniversary in March. But they do offer a happy hour: $2 off drinks from 5:30-7pm nightly.
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