Thai Issan | Sebastopol

Despite a menu that runs for several pages, Thai Issan needs to go back to basics. The recently-opened Sebastapol restaurant may have bitten off a little more than it was ready to chew when it comes to flavorful Thai cooking

Despite a menu that runs for several pages, Thai Issan needs to go back to basics. The recently-opened Sebastopol restaurant may have bitten off a little more than it was ready to chew when it comes to flavorful Thai cooking.
For BiteClub, good Southeast Asian cuisine means fresh flavors punctuated by sweet, salty, sour and spicy — each bite different. Fragrance is key, with whiffs of lemon grass, lime, fish sauce, chili, coconut milk or peanuts.
With so many exotic spices and flavors inherent in the Thai kitchen, it ends up being fairly disappointing when a restaurant like Issan can’t seem to meld them into something harmonious. Or even meet the lowered expectations of two really hungry writers.
Here’s the rundown…
1. Thome Yum: Officially, Tom Yum is more of a broth (rather than Tom Khaa, which includes coconut milk). I’ve gotten both versions as Tom Yum, but Issan’s version is more in the clear, brothy camp. The bad news is that its so overwhelmed by salty fish sauce that it’s almost inedible. Skip it.
2.  Fresh rolls: A chokingly expensive $6 for two skinny rolls filled with lettuce. What appears to be bagged lettuce at that. I’m all for
vegetarian rolls (though I much prefer them with shrimp), but the few sad strings of rice noodles and a leaf or two of mint were all that saved these rolls from being a house salad.
3. Pad Thai, ($8): Nothing particularly bad about it, but nothing particularly memorable. Salty is the one note that Issan hits again and again. No spark of lime or citrus. Absolutely no heat. Anywhere. A big puddle of grease at the bottom.
4. Pumpkin Curry, ($11): Lots of bell pepper, not much pumpkin. Or chicken. Though it was the best of the lot, this red curry-based entree could have fit into Cinderella’s slipper — with a little wiggle room. The portion was surprisingly small and bland. No happy endings here.
Overall: Thai Issan is still waiting for its fairy godmother of flavor to arrive.
Thai Issan: 7503 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, 707.829.8422. Open
Mon-Sat for lunch (11:30-3pm), dinner 5-9:30pm. Sunday dinner from


27 thoughts on “Thai Issan | Sebastopol

  1. Here’s to second the astute observations of Bonnie. Nit’s Thai Creations on River Road just west of Rio Nido, is not only a jewel but one of the best Thai Restaurants in the North Bay. Trust me I have been to Thailand 17 times.

  2. I first ate at Thai Issan in Petaluma right after they opened. The food was partly frozen and expensive. These days, I think the restaurant is little more than a front for a nightclub operating out of there on weekends. If the Sebastopol place is related, the pattern will probably repeat itself.

  3. Mr. Anonymous or Mr. Pretentious,
    I also went to Thailand and I agree the food is marvelous. I think we are very lucky to have a few restaurants ( some better than others) in Sonoma to enjoy the taste of the Thai cuisine. Stop complaining and be happy with what we have.

  4. Conni…I share your pain. I lived in northern indiana for four painful years, and agree! There is very little diversity in food, and being back in CA to have choices again is wonderful!! My husband who is from Indiana had never had japanese or thai food until we moved here. Now, he can’t imagine life without it!

  5. Read the comment from the woman in Southern Indiana and be thankful that we live in a country where we can experience so many different types of food. Be thankful that you can afford to “eat out”. Before you go to a restaurant, make sure that you are hungry (did you ever notice that everything tastes “delicious” when you are camping?). If you have a bad experience at a restaurant, mention it to the manager. You don’t have to publicly rub it in, these guys and gals in the business usually work very hard to put the food on the plate. Just a thought or two.

  6. The pumpkin curry at Thai Bistro (Santa Rosa & Petaluma) is absolutely fantastic. The accompanying salad is amazing, too. I won’t bother with Thai Issan (either location) with Thai Bistro around.

  7. I’m not sure you want to use the phrase “happy endings” in a review of an Asian business, or do you…?

  8. I agree. Thai Issan was a disappointment. Especially the pumpkin curry. Try the pumkin curry at either Jhanthong Banbua or Thai Pot and enjoy the flavors and texture of a truly delicious dish.

  9. Gawd, I absolutely hate when restaurants load everything with green bell peppers. For one thing, they always seem to make me sick, but also, there are so many wonderful vegetables in the world; why would anyone make the green bell pepper the focus?
    Especially when I order pumpkin curry, I want lots of *pumpkin.* Since I order vegan and don’t like tofu, I ask them to make it with extra pumpkin instead of the tofu or chicken or whatever, and I always know when I’ve got a terrible restaurant, because they are the ones that, even after you specify more pumpkin, still bring you hardly any pumpkin, but loads of bell peppers and carrots. It’s just cheap.

  10. What I hate the most about Thai Restaurant is the EXTREMELY SMALL portions … I just hate it and have never been back to a local Thai restaurant since … King of Thai in Sanfrancisco got it right !!!

  11. Thank you all for posting your thoughts and feelings about our business. I am taking time to write a response to all of your posting to let you know that your voice and concerns have been heard. We feel here at Thai Issan that if there was only good reviews than we would never know how to improve and better ourselves. Ofcourse hearing many bad views is a dissappointment to myself and my staff, but we except them with open arms. We will address your concerns and hopefully your next visit to our restaurant is a better one.

  12. We went there the second week that they were open. When we walked in, all the tables were full and there were several people waiting for tables, seated in bar. After 15 minutes, when none of the staff had even approached us to ask how many in our party, we left. We waited another 2 weeks and went again, hoping that the opening-jitters would have worked themselves out. We were greeted and seated within about 5 minutes of walking in. Although the server did not seem to know what she was doing (asking if we were okay, checking to see if we needed drink refills, etc), the food was FABULOUS! I had the wide egg noodle dish (can’t remember the name of it) and it was spicy and yummy. My boyfriend had the curry dish w/ chicken and he said it was very good, as well. We’re hoping that the staff at Thai Issan are reading these posts, so they’ll know what they need to improve upon. All in all, despite a negative first visit, our second visit has convinced us that we must return again and again. Give it a try!

  13. I haven’t been to the new Thai Issan, but if it is owned and managed by the same people as the Petaluma one, expect bad food and bad service to be the norm.
    But seriously, there are hardly any truly good Thai restaurants north of the city anyway. The standard I am using (probably unfair and unrealistic, I admit) is having been to Thailand four times and having eaten Thai food for 25 years. I can’t begin to express the difference to you all between Thai food *in Thailand* and Thai food made here. It is like night and day.
    The problem: Thai restaurants here are absolutely petrified to give people more than a few milligrams of all the things that make Thai food what it is: the aromatic herbs (kha, krachai, bai makrut, etc.). They are terrified that someone will experience some strong, authentic flavors and run out of the restaurant screaming “Arghh! Too weird! Too strong!” or something (a totally unfounded and erroneous fear that defeats the purpose of what they are trying to do—bring Thai cuisine to Americans). When I used to eat Thai food in the early 1980s in Southern California, long before the (Pseudo-) Thai Food Mania swept the nation, it was often so packed with lemongrass that it looked like it had carpet in it.
    In my opinion one of the only (if not THE only) Thai places north of the city that comes even halfway close to making Thai food with some degree of respect for the fundamentals of the cuisine is Janthong Banbua, and they are still holding way back.
    I realize I will sound elitist saying this, but anyone who has not been to Thailand and eaten Thai food there really has no idea what Thai cuisine actually is and is supposed to be (this includes you, Jeff Cox). If you TRULY love Thai food, you must get on a plane and go to Thailand and experience it there. (However, know that this will ruin American Thai food for you forever.) Also, you should know that Thai restaurants in the USA only present a teeny, tiny fraction of the dishes that make up the cuisine. There are about 1,000 other dishes and items that you will never see, hear about or taste if you don’t go to Thailand.
    So for the most part, all the discussion about various Thai places in Sonoma County are near-pointless examinations of various degrees of mediocrity…

  14. I’m a native of Sonoma County but am currently living in Southern Indiana – don’t ask! Just reading even a bad review about a Thai restaurant brings tears to my eyes…none within 60 miles of this place and in general not very much diversity at all. Take heart that you have such choices and the chance for it to get better. I envy all of you more then I can say!!! Enjoy beautiful Sonoma County and all that it has to offer!!!

  15. There service has been bad for a long time at the Petaluma location. They forgot about us once for over a 1/2 hour and never offered to comp even our beverages. Also our food has been wrong on more occasions than I can count. We have stopped going there because of the service. Also they are charging more for less. We do like the food, but we found another Thai place that we love, “Sea” in Petaluma. There pumpkin curry is great and has plenty of chicken and pumpkin.

  16. I have heard such disappointing reviews of thai issan from as well as now here from heather, that i won’t be spending my own money on this place anytime soon.
    Heather, perhaps you and your writer friend would have had a more tasty time at the previously suggested Himalyan Tandoori Restaurant in Sebastopol on Hwy 116. Full of flavor!
    and free cup of lentil soup !

  17. If you want great Thai food in the barren Thai landscape of Sonoma County the jewel lies at the Russian River. Nits Thai Creations is great!

  18. Good point Rachel. To clarify, I was refering to the Sebastopol Thai Issan, not the Petaluma one. I think the owners are related, that is why they share the same name.

  19. I share the comments. A couple of weeks ago I tried it with a friend. We had 3 dishes. One was very good, I can’t remember which one but it was very distinct in the sweet, salty, sour, and spicy. It had Thai basil. One was o.k. That was a broad rice noodle dish like a Thai version of the Chinese chow fun. The third, the pumpkin curry was terrible. My friend had never eaten the dish and I was looking forward to this normally great dish. But there was almost no pumpkin or meat and a thin watery curry. Very disappointing!

  20. Is this related to the Petaluma restaurant? Seems odd a place would use the name of another local dig unless there was a connection …

  21. When i first saw this post i was afraid you were giving thai issan in petaluma a negative review. With the tendency of Americans to filter and not fully read a full paragraph it might be helpful to mention city names etc… so as not to harm a good business in another city, especially in this economy

  22. The service also needs work…It took a long time for our food to come (30 – 40 mins)and we had finished our beer, our server did not ask if we wanted another one, but he did tell us that they were “slammed” with a big order just before us and apologized for the delay. The server told the same thing to the table next to us and I noticed another table with empty wine glasses and no food. I also found that it was very expensive. We had a beer each (1 small and 1 large size) 1 pad thai w/ prawns and 1 prawns with curry and our meal came in just over $50 with tip! The food was very good but the experience kind of ruined it for us. We have since gotten take out and found that the food was not as good as when we ate there. Our curry was thin and runny, it tasted fine but I found it a but strange, the pad thai was just ok. I think with the economy being the way it is, restaurants really need to be on point and offer excellent food, service and value.

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