Rama, Upscale Thai by Way of San Diego and Cabo

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Thai Restaurant Los Angeles

Alex Thao has had Thai success further south and now takes on L.A. [Rama]

Alex Thao’s family has been operating restaurants in San Diego for 30 years, and he’s owned his own crop of restaurants for the past decade, including Celadon, Chow Noodle House and branches of Rama in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and Cabo San Lucas. Rather than continue on the same path in San Diego, Thao decided “L.A. was a way to get the Rama brand to another level.” Thao aimed high, naming his restaurant for the legendary sixth king of Thailand who developed the transportation infrastructure and school system while fending off colonization.

Tasha Nita Adams over at Blackburn and Sweetzer has been tracking the opening for months. Thao recently discussed his plans in greater detail, beginning with the hunt for the space, which took two years. “We wanted to be a serious restaurant, not just one of these places that’s just a celebrity spot,” says Thao. “On La Cienega, restaurants come and go, and people aren’t always serious about dining.” Instead, he turned to 3rd Street, which had a suitable restaurant scene.

“When you think Thai or ethnic restaurants, you think mom and pop, good food but it’s missing service or ambience,” says Thao. “We’re packaging all three. We’re not high end, we’re not low end, we’d what you’d call casual fine dining.”

Thao and wife Michi have transformed the former home of Celadon (no relation) with the help of San Diego based architect Rodolfo Mendez. The dominant design feature is a 13-foot-high, 100-foot-wide waterfall. Multiple rooms in the sprawling space accommodate over 250 people total. Options include a 100-seat dining room (The Dining Room) and a 50-seat patio called The Zen Garden. Expect Buddha statues and antique wood, a look that Thao describes as “elegant and exotic.” A separate bar called Bar Buddha will open in June, with 20 different Thai tapas and room for 100 people.

Executive Chef Pannuwat Soukjai has been with the company for six years and previously cooked at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. At Rama, Thao promises that you’ll only find fresh herbs, and never taste anything that originated in a can. The menu is nearly identical to the San Diego original, with options divided into two categories: Traditional Classic Items and Seasonal Specials (10-12 items per season). Expect dishes like Drunken Garlic Noodles stir-fried with garlic, basil, cherry tomatoes, onions, gai lan and Filet Mignon; Garlic/Salted Whole Dungeness Crab, and Maple Leaf Roast Duck with herbs, spices and fried spinach.

Rama will open with a beer and wine license, and Thao hopes to secure a full liquor license by June. “Our cocktails will be influenced with seasonal fruits from Thailand,” he says, mentioning lychee, rambutan and tamarind. You’ll also find 70 wines by the glass, a total of 150 wines and two Thai beers, Singha and Chang.

As for the opening date, Thao says that construction is 95% complete, and they’re looking to debut in mid to late March, depending on their ability to lock down a beer and wine license.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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