Celadon

$25 - $50

Elegantly decorated with white tables and splashes of lime green mixed with black trimming, Celadon is a stunningly modern Thai restaurant located in Hillcrest. An evening here promises a classy and contemporary spin on Asian cuisine, with a mixture of traditional Thai dishes and modern interpretations of Thai cuisine, with just a hint of French influence. Specialties include Larb Pla, a deep-fried whole striped bass topped with green mangoes, onions, scallions and a mint and chili lime sauce, and Duck Red Curry, featuring barbequed duck, pineapple, bell peppers, and basil in a special red curry sauce. Just one meal at is all it takes to understand why Celadon has been a Hillcrest institution for over two decades.

Celadon Proves Graceful, Elegant, and Stunning

Celadon has graced the streets of Hillcrest for over 25 years, all the while performing a slow and evolving dance. The restaurant’s performance started out modest and unobtrusive—opening in 1981 in a renovated house on Fifth Avenue—but gradually became grander, more eloquent, and more impressive. The restaurant has moved locations twice, each time graduating in both style and form, with a brighter décor, more formal setting, and an evolution of elegance, confidence, and charm. With the debut of its third location in 2007, Celadon has proven itself a star—an enchanting performer who not only lands every step right, but exudes grace and charm along the way. If you have yet to experience Celadon, you are in for a breathtaking performance that promises to both woo and win you over.

The modest white stucco building that houses the restaurant is quaint and unobtrusive, giving no hint of the grandeur that waits inside. The first-floor bar and lounge is a study in eclectic modernism, a warm, comforting space that both treads on history and departs entirely from it. A five-person bar stands in front of the entrance, modern leather bar stools lined perfectly askew against the dark wood grain. To the right, lavish wingback chairs and chaise lounges evoke the opulence of 18th-century decor, while a white baby grand piano waits to be occupied. A wall of mirrors seems to extend the whimsical space, while a half flight of stairs entices guests further into the restaurant.

Where the first floor lounge greets with loud colors and bold designs, the upstairs dining room is a complete turnaround. Here, a minimalist elegance takes over, with a room awash in white—white tables, white chairs, white walls, and white banquettes. Black starkly accents the otherwise monochrome room, strategically transforming elements that would otherwise fade into the background into centerpieces of design: black molding defines the ceiling, black trim outlines drapes that break up the space, and black buttons stud white leather banquettes. Select bold colors permeate the black-and-white motif: a vibrant chartreuse green, in the form of wallpaper and ceiling paint, suggests a playful liveliness, while dark wood brings an earthy undertone, through the floors, chair legs, and the only wall decoration: an enormous woodcarving of a face whose sage, serene expression overlooks the room.

As we set foot in the dining room, I feel as if I am walking into a dream. The late evening light filters through open French doors, the back patio beckoning with its peaceful serenity. We are seated at one of many tables along the north wall, easing into the comfortable banquettes as the room quickly fills around us. The tables are close together but I find I don't mind the proximity of my neighbors—with the convivial din of conversation peppering the room, no one conversation stands out.

With glasses of house-wine in front of us—from a temporary limited selection while owner Alex Thao works to redesign the wine list—it is time to tackle the menu. Like its sister restaurant, Rama, Celadon offers a wide, diverse array of traditional Thai dishes that make deciding on a meal a pleasurable challenge. The kitchen is overseen by Alex's mother, Joanne Thao, who pulls from decades of experience and frequent return trips to Thailand. With the new location, she introduced even more choices, with a rotating seasonal selection of specials bolstering the regular menu.

We begin with Kratong Tong, a festive and playful appetizer. A tumble of crisp wonton shells, molded into flower-shaped cups and flash fried, rests on a whole Napa cabbage leaf, which forms a cradle beneath the delicate flowers. A bowl of a vibrant curry medley sits alongside the leaf, as does a ramekin of glistening plum sauce. The dish requires assembly, and we set to work scooping the curry medley—potatoes, peas, carrots, and chicken—into the paper-thin cups, then drizzling our creations with the sweet sauce. The contrast between the delicate, almost dainty shell and the hearty, bold filling is delightful—the crisp of the shell gives way to a soft, creamy core. Tangy plum sauce transforms the entire dish, lifting it from savory to sweet. Despite its vibrant yellow color, the curry is not too bold or strong, and the dish provides a mild and elegant introduction to the restaurant's cuisine.

Chicken Satay is a familiar appetizer, featuring long strips of breast meat skewered onto thin bamboo sticks, accompanied by a rich peanut-plum sauce and a light medley of marinated cucumbers and red onions. The presentation is dramatic, the skewers layered atop one another so that the bamboo rods stick out from the plate like haphazard buttresses. The meat is dyed a vibrant red, from a red-curry-and-coconut marinade that brings a rush of coconut flavor with the first bite. The meat is delightfully tender, almost soft and sweet. The thick, velvety peanut sauce is the second textural delight of the dish, thickly coating the skewers and cloaking each bite in a robe of luxury. The flavors of peanut and tangy plum sauce dance on the tongue, but there is no worry of spice. This is a mild dish, bringing out the best in the ingredients' flavors but keeping the heat reserved.

We segue into our main courses with Pineapple Fried Rice, and are delighted with its stunning presentation. An oversized white platter arrives bearing an entire pineapple, knocked onto its side, sliced open, and hollowed. Inside, it holds a golden medley of pineapple, cashews, cherry tomatoes, scallions, chicken, shrimp, and egg-coated rice. The dish is festive and ornate, and is to the palate what it is to the eye. Each bite brings an explosion of flavors: the sweet juice of the pineapple marries with the tartness of tomatoes, while the nutty sweet cashews bring a welcome crunch. The chicken is tender and hearty, the shrimp pure and soft, and the scallions lend the perfect sharpness to counteract the otherwise rich ingredients. Despite the eclectic blend of ingredients, the dish is a harmonious whole, a welcome blend of sweetness with a savory undertone.

Spicy Lobster appears on the seasonal selection, and is recommended to us by Joanne herself. The dish is one of contrasts—dark sauce pools around pale pieces of spiny lobster, the thinness of the sauce contrasted by the plump, succulent flesh. Tucked amid the curled crustaceans is a colorful medley: diced red and green bell pepper, red onion, stewed tomatoes, and generous amounts of wilted basil. The dish is aromatic and enticing, the smell of basil greeting the nose and promising to please the palate. The sweet, soft onions and cooked tomato bring a comforting, familiar flavor, while the soy-based sauce seems refreshingly new. The most stunning bites of the dish are ones that combine the smoky, flavorful basil with the sweet, resonant lobster. The combination is beguiling and complex, a hint of spice tempered by natural sweetness. It is elegant and exotic, a perfect marriage of earth and sea.

Our last dish, Choo Chee Duck, is a showstopper. The dish is rich and decadent, with subtly layered flavors and a dichotomy of textures that absolutely captivates the palate. Like its predecessors, it is served on an enormous white platter that looks like it could easily accommodate four, if not more, servings. A blanket of thick, creamy coconut and red curry sauce blankets the slivered red peppers, lime leaves, peas and roast duck that comprise the dish. The first thing that hits me is richness—the sauce is an intriguing blend of sweet coconut and an underlying spicy curry that is not so much hot as it is flavorful. The second is texture—the thick, velvety sauce gives way to a surprise: the pieces of duck have been roasted, skin-on, prior to being added to the sauce, resulting in a delightfully crunchy skin. The duality of soup-like cream and crisp, sultry crunch is exhilarating, and despite its richness I find myself addicted to the dish. Each bite brings a complex rush of sweet and savory, creamy and spicy, soft and crunchy, all of which somehow play perfectly off one another. Who knew decadence could hit so many notes?

There seems no more fitting conclusion to this decadent meal than the simplest dish: mango with sticky rice. However, even this simple combination of fruit and starch is luxurious, thanks to a creamy, glistening coconut sauce that blankets the warm mound of sticky rice. The ring of mango that surrounds the pale rice is cool and moist, its temperature brining a welcoming contrast to the warm rice. A bite is sweet and soothing, the fresh diced mango lending a pureness to the decadent sauce.

While we have only tried a sampling of Celadon’s dishes, I feel I am left with a solid understanding of their cuisine. No one dish has been too powerful, or too spicy; each seems a rendition that emphasizes elegance and harmony over boldness or spice. As a result, the restaurant offers a seamless and smooth introduction to the flavors of Thai cuisine, filling a meal not only with enticing flavors, but with grace, elegance, and dazzling charm. With such exquisite eloquence in both cuisine and decor, Celadon promises to be one of Hillcrest’s star performers for some time.

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  Restaurant Info

  • 3671 5th Avenue
    San Diego CA 92103
  • Address: 3671 5th Avenue, San Diego CA 92103
  • Cross Street: Pennsylvania Avenue
  • Location: Hillcrest & Uptown | Hillcrest
  • Cuisine: Asian | Thai |
  • Cost: $$ | Inexpensive | $25 - $50
  • Category: Fine Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Recommended
  • Dress Code: Business Casual
  • Meals Served: Dinner |
  • Parking: Street | Public Lot |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | Mastercard | Discover | Diners Club |
  • Corkage Fee: N/A
  • Staff: SoNsi | Executive Chef
  • Phone: (619) 297-8424

  Business Hours

Monday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Tuesday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Wednesday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Thursday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Friday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.
Saturday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.
Sunday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Features

Occasion

 


  F.A.Q. - Frequently Asked Questions


 User Reviews

Great Thai Food!  

The food was so good we went two nights in a row. The grilled shrimp starter is devine - and their drunken noodles are amazing!!! They have a good wine selection and the service is both friendly and efficient. By far one of the best values for money around. The only drawback is the noise level - so get ready to speak up to those sitting across the table from you.

Always the Best Thai Food in San Diego  

Celadon is our Thai food standby. Why not, since in my opinion it is simply the best Thai restaurant in San Diego. Especially for how inexpensive their yummy food is. Wednesday night was packed, but our little party of four squeaked in right before the rush. Nice window table. All of our food was outstanding, especially the Chicken Pad Thai and the Shrimp Drunken Noodles. Unfortunately, we were too stuffed for Mango Sticky Rice (it's absolutely to DIE for!). The service was a little off this night, but I shrug it off to the fact that they were not ready for how busy it became so quickly. At least no one was rude to us, as we have come to expect from Taste of Thai across the street.

the best  

This is some of the best Thai food I've had, and has quickly become my husband's and my favorite neighborhood spot. Don't miss the Choo Chee fish - to die for!! Service is consistently good; they even sent us home with a container of their peanut sauce when we asked about it!

Excellent across the Board!  

This restaurant has excellent food, service, and prices. The only thing that is difficult about this restaurant is finding parking. But once you do find a spot, park your butt at Celadon. It's totally worth it and you get a lot for your money.

Wheelchair lift is interesting  

Good quality, fair prices. Ingredients authentic and preparation excellent EXCEPT no fire! Serving small cups of chili mixes to 'add to taste' is just not the same as preparing the food with chilis and ginger. Beautiful ambiance, service almost formal and this restaurant goes out of its way to make a wheel-chair client welcome. Those with wheelchairs must try their lift!!

Best Thai in town!  

Celadon has the best Thai food I have ever had and the ambiance was intriguing as well. The food was very flavorful without being overwhelming and the servers explain everything to those who are new to Thai cuisine. I can't wait to try their new sister restaurant Rama!

good food, great decor, great value  

Great decor and atmosphere: soft, ambient, gentle, and perfect for a date. I would dissaude big groups because the loud chatter would ruin the experience for the smaller parties in which the restaurant is designed for. The food is better than your average San Diego Thai restaurant. The chicken satay (marinated chicken tenders on skewers with peanut sauce and cucumber chutney) is a must. If you are skeptical of Thai food, this dish is a great place to get rid of that skepticism. There was a user who suggested that the fish dishes were great but I must say to the contrary. The fish dishes are usually drowned with sweet chili sauce, which robs you of all taste. However, you cannot go wrong with the noodle dishes, especially the Lath nah and Pad si yu (forgive my spelling errors). As for the price, for the quality you get, it is a great value. Definitely a better value than Saffon Noodle House. As for service, it depends on your luck. Sometime your unfilled drink will sit there, sometimes, it will constantly be filled.

Great food, poor service.  

I've been to Celadon at least a half dozen times, and keep returning because their food is truly outstanding, some of the best Thai I've had. However, the service can be poor on occasion. On one particularly long luncheon visit, the restaurant was grossly understaffed (one waiter). During an evening visit, our party received dishes sporadically, the last arriving 40 minutes after the first. No one seemed willing to offer an explanation, much less an apologetic smile or even eye contact. After the meal, a server with a dismissive attitude gruffly mentioned that an oven was down. Other visits to Celadon have been notable only for the great cuisine, thankfully.