Tuk Tuk Thai: a touch-and-go option for campus eats

Tuk Tuk Thai SFSU
Photo by Gregory Moreno.

After a couple of semesters avoiding the steam tables and can-liberated food in the cafeteria, it became apparent that I couldn’t embargo campus food forever. It was about that time when I began to eat at one of the more promising campus eateries, Tuk Tuk Thai.

The pocket-sized restaurant which boasts a similarly-sized menu, nestled next to The Pub on the lower conference level of the Cesar Chavez Student Center, opened in the fall of 2009. Their menu consists mainly of meat dishes, however vegetarians and vegans still have a few options.

The food is hit or miss. There is some consolation that even when the food isn’t spectacular, most dishes are cooked fresh to order.

There is nothing worse than a meal that is both unsatisfying in taste and in quality. It means that orders occasionally take longer to prepare, but it is easy to tell that the cooks actually do take care in what they’re preparing. This care was especially apparent on one recent day when I ordered a meal (the minced chicken salad, or Laab Gai) and sat at one of the tables in front of the restaurant.

One of the cooks noticed that I had only eaten a small portion of my salad, and approached me with a complimentary order of peanut chicken, offering it to me assuming that I wasn’t happy with what I previously ordered. The skeptic in me wondered if this was the result of an extra order that he didn’t want to waste. On the other hand, if it was a genuine gesture it was a great example of a restaurant staff that does care about their customers being well fed and happy.

Coincidentally, the peanut chicken is one of the better choices on the menu. Served with a side of rice and traditional garnishes of bean sprouts and lime, the chicken is always perfectly cooked. The peanut sauce is more soupy than what I’m used to, but the flavor is rich and balanced with the right amount of spice needed to feel like you’re not simply dunking a piece of chicken in peanut butter. The various curries are all solid choices as well, and offer a good value for the price. This is especially true of their red curry, which is hands down their most delicious variety.

Some of the less impressive dishes include the Laab Gai salad. The menu says it is a minced mix of chicken, onion, spices and veggies served over rice. Unfortunately I had a tough time finding anything other than the tiniest slivers of onion in mine, and there was just not enough flavoring for the massive amount of chicken in the dish. This was easy to fix with enough Sriracha and lime, but that goes for almost any dish. Another one to skip is the chicken satay appetizer. The chicken was cooked well enough, but the sauce was much spicier than advertised and had a funny gummy quality to it. I finished one skewer before reaching my tolerance limit of the gooey sauce.

The service is friendly and the menu represents an accessible slice of Thai cuisine. It also won’t cost you an arm and a leg to eat here and find something on the menu that you like. Unfortunately though, finding one of the handful of satisfying dishes means chewing through a bunch of mediocrity. As far as campus food goes it isn’t the worst, but what makes a two star restaurant at school would translate to a one star restaurant in the real world. Eat accordingly.