When I stepped into the door of Buddha Thai in Middletown, I immediately noticed two different things. First, I saw the restaurant, tidy and clean with shiny brown tables and Thai artwork on the walls. It feels bright and happy—welcoming and inviting. Secondly, I heard country music coming through the speakers. Yep, Garth Brooks playing in a Thai restaurant. That unlikely, but not unpleasant juxtaposition of cultures sets the tone for Buddha Thai, and makes it a delightful place to dine.
My wife and I came in for lunch. As he handed us our menu, Charlie, the co-owner, asked, “Would you like water with ice, or without ice?” I had never been asked that in a restaurant, a reflection of the thoughtfulness that permeates the place. A woman sitting behind us finished up her meal. “This is the best restaurant in the county,” she told us as she shouldered her purse to leave. “It’s so good.” If you live in the south county, odds are you have heard of Buddha Thai and know exactly what she’s talking about. But if you haven’t, take a minute to read this, then head down to Middletown to see whether or not she was exaggerating.
“Ting and I started in Hidden Valley Lake,” Charlie told me as he brought out the beautiful, tangy salads that come with the lunch dishes. “Then in 2012 we moved to Middletown to capture some of the Harbin business, and that worked great. But in 2015, when the Valley Fire hit, we lost all of that business.” He paused. “Things are still going okay, knock on wood.“ He rapped his knuckles against his head, then headed back to the kitchen.
Once we finished the salad, the spring rolls came to our table. Larger sized than most spring rolls, they are filled with lettuce, avocado, cashews, cucumber and a tangy dressing. “We use a 32 centimeter wrap,” Charlie told us. “Most restaurants use a 20. That way we can fit more stuff in.” They’re the top selling dish in the restaurant, and for good cause. It’s guilt-free eating. You’ll get filled up and stay healthy. He left us to our spring rolls, and soon came back out with our dishes.
“Be grateful I didn’t cook the food for you,” Charlie told me as he brought out our dishes. “You’ll be glad Ting made it.” Ting doesn’t get her flavors from packages or boxes. She creates all her own recipes, and does a phenomenal job of bringing together the bright Thai notes and flavors in each dish. “Even after the Mendocino Complex Fires people are leaving,” Charlie continued as we spooned sauce into our spring rolls. “We have people still coming in and telling us they’re leaving to Washington, Nevada, Oregon,” he counted the states off on his fingers. “All leaving California. We just had three different people come in on a Tuesday and tell us they were leaving.”
He noticed me eyeing my plate. “I’m going to stop talking and let you eat your food before it gets cold. Ting’s always telling me I talk too much and no one gets to eat their food.” With that he left us to enjoy our meal.
My wife had the Pad Eggplant, a stir-fry which brought in the bright flavor of basil and spice of jalepeno with a tangy, gingery sauce. Served with brown rice, the flavors complemented each other perfectly. I had the Pad Si-ew, a dish with wide rice noodles, broccoli and carrots. The dark soy sauce notes cooked on high heat bring out a toasty, just-on-the-edge-of-burnt flavor that filled my mouth.
I’ve been to plenty of Thai restaurants that over-grease their food. But it doesn’t matter what you order at Buddha Thai, you won’t have to worry about the sliminess of a half cup of grease in your dish. From curries to soups to stir fries to noodles, every dish at Buddha Thai carries its own personality and depth.
21037 Calistoga Rd.
Middletown, CA 95461
This article first appeared in The Bloom November 29, 2018.