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[whitespace] Ellen Saranyaphiphat
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Keeping It Real: Westside Thai owner Ellen Saranyaphiphat shows off the lunch buffet.

Two Times Thai

Real Thai expands with the Westside Thai Restaurant, featuring curries, tempura and sushi, sushi, sushi

By Janet Blaser

A N ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT sushi buffet? Whaddya, dreamin'? That's what I've thought these past weeks reading ads for lunch at the Westside Thai Restaurant. So I moseyed over to see what all the fuss was about. Ever the skeptic, I entered the Mission Street restaurant with my tongue firmly in cheek--and exited with that same tongue fully satisfied.

Said lunch buffet was shockingly complete, with six curries (veg and nonveg), crispy vegetable tempura, steamed rice, coconut soup, salad, cut fruit and sushi, sushi, sushi till the cows come home. No fuss, no muss--just a wonderful, delectable Thai food extravaganza, for only $6.95 (and kids 10 and under are $3.95). What more could you want? Maybe Thai iced tea? Just ask your waiter, and in the wink of an eye it'll appear at your table.

Owner Ellen Saranyaphiphat believes in feeding people the foods of her homeland, plain and simple. Her Real Thai restaurant on the Eastside of Santa Cruz has enjoyed a steady clientele and solid reputation for years, and she has no doubt that this one will follow the same path. These are family-run restaurants--one son is a sushi chef, there's a daughter waiting tables and another son is poised to step into the kitchen any day now. And Ellen? Well, she's everywhere, doing everything, gracious as can be, never flustered and always smiling.

Ellen bought the restaurant a little over a year ago, and the lunch buffet is the latest part of her plan to attract the students and UCSC folks down from the hill. A big glass-enclosed patio on the ocean side provides a warm spot to sit and watch the inevitable traffic jam on Mission, but hey, at least you're out of the wind and fog. Inside, two levels of seating offer a more intimate ambiance, or if you like, there's a small sushi bar where you can sit and watch the chef.

Back to the buffet. On a recent visit, the curries, which change every day, featured two classics, pad Thai vegetables and peanut tofu, asparagus pork (yum), fried rice tofu, green curry tofu (hot) and sautéed fresh ginger with chicken, my favorite. Also in the lineup was a bin of wonderful vegetable tempura, a melange of red bell peppers, broccoli, onions, zucchini and who knows what else, backed by a tray of shrimp chips, which I find curiously like fish-flavored Styrofoam.

Another table holds the rest of the Thai-style fixins--rice, soup, salad, dipping sauce and that big tray of sushi--one side vegetarian, one side fish-filled. I'm talking piles of rolls, multiple layers of perfect little makimono. And, yes, it's really all-you-can-eat. Sigh. The entire regular menu lists everything in Thai, with English descriptions underneath. If you're like me, you're probably glad for the numbers next to each selection (the less I can embarrass myself, the better). Ellen's even got that covered. On your way in, pick up the one-page sheet near the door for a quick Thai lesson. You'll learn basic greetings, numbers and days of the week, places and directions and, of course, all kinds of info about food and drink. I'm doing my best to remember at least two important phrases: phoot thar mar dar kaa (I cannot speak Thai) and kop koon kaa, Ellen (thank you, Ellen).

Westside Thai Restaurant and Sushi Bar can be found at 2238 Mission St., Santa Cruz. The all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is available from 11am to 3pm weekdays, and dinner is served 5pm to 9:30 or 10pm daily. A regular lunch menu is available on weekends. Call 469.3209 for more information.

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From the October 13-20, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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