First Look: Thai on the Drive at Kin Kao Kitchen (BONUS: Soft Peaks Ice Cream in Gastown)

I was both excited and nervous about trying the newest Thai restaurant on Commercial Drive, Kin Kao. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I have the highest regard for Longtail Kitchen in New West. But Kin Kao is closer to my house and also has good beer…it feels I’m being unfaithful to my spouse. Are the menus different enough so that I can frequent both places? Do I have anything to worry about? Do I need to make sure I don’t have glitter all over my clothes when I get home?

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Kin Kao is on the north end of Commercial Drive at Venables, in a space that used to be a Spanish sandwich place called Bocadillo (never went there). I love the huge windows, à la 33 Acres. The space was designed by the same guys who did Bestie in Chinatown, so I see a lot of pine and white.

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If you wanna see more pics of the space, Scout has your back.

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Take-out is a great option when you still want high-level food in the comfort of your own home but are too lazy to cook. It’s also great for when you want to eat good food while “passing the dutchie pon de left-hand side…” 😉

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YAY!!! The have great local beer on tap! Strange Fellows and also 33 Acres (not pictured).

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Interior has a lot of fresh, light-coloured pine with little touches like this. Clean and minimal. It’s a small space but they’ve done a good job.

Minor complaint: some areas are a little cramped (like where I was sitting) so I had to scootch up close to our table. This resulted in my knees hitting the table leg a few times…once resulting in spilt water. Sorry. I wasn’t drunk, really.

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NOTE: This was their soft-opening menu. These drinks will be $3 when they have their grand opening Tuesday, February 10.

Drinks for the alcohol-averse.

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NOTE: Strange Fellows beer was $2-off during their soft-opening. Prices for all beers will be $6.50 for a 16oz pour when they open for real.

Good small selection of beer. Strange Fellows Talisman Pale Ale is great if you want something lighter, 33 Acres of Life if you want something with a bit more oomph and body, and 33 Acres of Darkness when you want something dark and roasty but still quaffable. I like how they didn’t go with Parallel 49 beers cuz I think SF and 33 Acres beers are a better match with the food here.

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This was their soft-opening menu. Items and prices may change when they open for real on Tuesday, February 10. Check their website or Instagram feed for up-to-date info.

Deep Fried Sour Cured Pork Ribs sound really interesting and are new to me. They use cooked rice?? Sounds a bit like my grandmother’s “sweet liquor” (teem jow) homemade fermented rice dessert 😀 Although in this case, I don’t think it’s sweet. Deep Fried Sweet Potato sounds good too.

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I saw their Spicy Grilled Beef & Red Grape Salad on Instagram and was intrigued. I had to try it. Also, the last time I had any sort of Thai collar dish was the boar collar dish at Pok Pok in Portland, so the Grilled Marinated Pork Collar was a must-order too. I think we had enough food, so the Pad Kra Pao would have to wait until next time…

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The rest of the menu. I like how the menu is small, tight, yet varied. It suits the size of the place…just feels right!

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Strange Fellows Talisman Pale Ale (4.2%). Awesome fruity hop aroma and easy-drinking body. This is the first time I’ve had Strange Fellows beer outside of their brewery. I think this might even be Strange Fellow’s first account? I love the locality of it all cuz Strange Fellows is only a short drive west on Venables at Clark.

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Some shades of 33 Acres tasting room with these enameled steel camping cups. Cute. Unbreakable.

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Wicca’s Thai Iced Tea. I know traditionally Thai Iced Tea is supposed to be either sweet or toe-curlingly sweet. We both liked how this version was toned down, so you can really enjoy the milkiness and the slight bitterness and astringency from the tea component. Helps cut the heat from the chilies.

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Just as good as Longtail Kitchen’s version. A must-try.

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Nice little cork coasters. Totally goes with the rest of the room.

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Instructional posters in the washroom.

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Nice touch.

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Deep Fried Sweet Potato with Sweet Chili Sauce (Man Thot). A closer look at the menu later made us wonder where the “coconut flakes, sesame seeds and aromatic paste” were. We couldn’t detect any coconut, but it was still a tasty dish.

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It reminded us of yam tempura. Crispy on the outside and very soft and sweet on the inside. I’d order this again.

I later remarked to Wicca that I love how this place doesn’t have spring rolls (yawn).

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Deep Fried Sour Cured Pork Ribs (Naem Si Krong Mu Tort) marinated in cooked rice, kosher salt and garlic. This came out hot, straight from the deep fryer. They said to try a few pieces right away then wait and go back to it later on because the flavours would change as it cools down.

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Shredded cabbage underneath.

These are pretty much the perfect meat-based beer snack. I can taste the sourness in the meat — not too much, not too little. I know it sounds strange to have sour meat, but it went so well with the beer. It’s one of those combos where you go back and forth between the food and beer and you can’t stop the cycle of eating and drinking. I imagined a group of Thai dudes sitting on plastic stools in a side street drinking beer and nibbling on these. The seasoning was actually laidback. More typical beer snacks would be more salty to get you to drink more, but with this dish there was an enticing quality that pulled you in to eat and drink more.

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Rib-eating fingers.

We also liked the dishware here. Wicca got a cute dish that had an impression of a doily in it.

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Spicy Grilled Beef Red Grape Salad (Yum Nua). Standout dish. Inclusion of grapes not strange at all. The sweetness and acid from the grapes meshed perfectly with the sour, spicy, salty, herby flavours in the salad. This was about medium-spicy, just right for us. It did have me sweating though, cuz the last few years I’ve developed an unfortunate allergic reaction to capsaicin which makes my scalp sweat like mad. But I do love spice anyways.

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The menu recommended eating the beef salad with rice. It does indeed taste great together. There were also a couple lettuce leaves on the dish, which I used to make a salad/rice taco 😀 Sorta like how Koreans like eating grilled meat with rice wrapped in lettuce.

Quick lesson on how to use a fork & spoon to eat Thai food: I’m right-handed, so I have the spoon in my right hand and use the fork in my left to push the food onto the spoon, which I then shovel into my mouth 😛 Works for Malaysian food too!

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Grilled Marinated Pork Collar (Ko Mu Yang) marinated with palm sugar, oyster sauce, and fish sauce. Another beer snack kind of dish. The flavours reminded Wicca of Vietnamese meat dishes her mom would make.

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Served with Jaew dipping sauce on the side. I think that’s toasted rice powder floating on top. Here’s a Serious Eats recipe for this sauce if you’re interested. It’s like a way less sweet, more salty and sour cousin to Vietnamese nước chấm.

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If we weren’t getting so full, we would’ve got another bowl of rice to eat with this. We ended up taking half of this home. It’s a good dish but I think people might be confused about how to approach a dish of just meat and dipping sauce. I thought of it as drinking food meant to be shared. The flavour and execution is very different from the boar collar dish we had at Pok Pok though, so it’s probably best not to compare the two. One minor criticism of the pork collar is that some pieces had a lot of gristle that needed to be cooked down more in order to be chewable. But I can see why collar meat is used for this dish because it has a lot of texture going from the meat, connective tissue, and the small amounts of fat.

We loved our first experience at Kin Kao, especially the shouts of Thai coming from the busy kitchen. The food is executed well, with quality and fair pricing to match. I think the menu and feel is different enough that it doesn’t step on Longtail Kitchen’s toes (thank god!). While Longtail is heavily street food-influenced with a “cheffy” touch, Kin Kao felt a bit more like homestyle incorporated with street food. Humble, approachable, and accessible yet with a certain uniqueness and authenticity so that it feels fresh and well worth checking out.

Kin Kao on Urbanspoon


BONUS: Soft Peaks Organic Milk Soft Serve in Gastown

Well, we couldn’t let the evening end with just ONE stop, so we decided to check out the new Soft Peaks in Gastown.

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We got there around 6:45pm and there was a small line-up which moved quickly. These guys DO NOT need help getting the word out 😛 Instagram is splattered with pictures of their snowy, creamy white soft serve. They were selling out constantly during their soft-opening phase, but now that they’re finally open for real, they’ve installed extra equipment to keep up with the demand.

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Friendly service…cuz it’s ICE CREAM! Yay!

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Some good, varied choices. They have milkshakes coming this summer!

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Wicca decided on “Sunrise in California”, which they describe as “sweet and sour” with yuzu marmalade.

A lot of people online are complaining about the price. Well, if you want soft serve made from scratch using local organic Avalon Dairy milk, this is how much it costs. You can’t have it all. You can’t have it local AND organic AND cheap. I think Vancouver has shown that it WILL pay this much for quality ice cream — just look at Bella Gellateria, Rain or Shine, Earnest Ice Cream (now with TWO locations), all the smaller frozen confectionery folks like Johnny’s Pops, Brown Paper Packages, Nice Pops, and retro-kitsch places like Glenburn Soda.

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Written on the wall in their small second-floor space.

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Sunrise in California with yuzu marmalade.

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Dried orange slice was a nice touch. Wicca LOVED the sweet and bitter yuzu marmalade. I wasn’t so much of a fan of the copious citrus rind in the marmalade, but if you love marmalade, this flavour is right up your alley.

What I did like was the dense, thick, creamy quality of the soft serve. It seems to have less air whipped into it than regular soft serve. PLUS it is not what I’d call sweet. The ice cream is just lightly sweet. If Dairy Queen is a 10 on the sweetness scale, this would be a 3. If you go into this not knowing this, you might think this ice cream was bland. But I think I love it cuz I just don’t like super-sweet desserts and this restrained sweetness made me appreciate the thick, smooth, creamy mouthfeel of this product. And it lets the toppings speak louder as well.

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The one downer was the gaping hole in the middle of our cup. Not sure if this is a consistent thing or not. I’ll mention it next time I’m in.

So good, it almost tastes guilt-free.

Soft Peaks Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

4 thoughts on “First Look: Thai on the Drive at Kin Kao Kitchen (BONUS: Soft Peaks Ice Cream in Gastown)”

  1. Fantastic intel on Kin Kao. Commercial needs more quality restos. And so sorry to hear about your allergy — that’s a rough one, especially for a food blogger.

    1. Thanks GE! I was thinking I should get one of those white Japanese headbands that you tie behind your head 😛 I don’t think it’ll look strange at all.

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