Rama

$25 - $50

Located in San Diego’s stylish and trendy Gaslamp Quarter, Rama blends in perfectly with its fashionable and bustling surroundings. The modern Thai restaurant is the sister restaurant of Hillcrest’s Celadon, and brings owner’s Alex Thao’s stylish, flavorful Thai cuisine to downtown patrons. The dramatic setting offers soft lighting and an earthy minimalist style, with romantic tables separated by floor-to-ceiling sheer panels. The menu is fresh, spicy, and ultimately authentic, with a variety of stir fries and curries that can be prepared with a choice of chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, or tofu, as well as indulgent house specialties such as Rama Crab, featuring king crab legs, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots in red curry.

A Flavorful Escape into an Exotic World

Upon setting foot in Rama, Alex Thao's celebrated Thai restaurant on Fourth Avenue Downtown, I am not swept away. That happens after about 50 feet, which is about the length of the dark passageway that leads from the front door to the main dining room. It is then, at the end of the corridor, that I find myself letting out a gasp of both surprise and awe, for I suddenly find myself amid a dramatic, stunning space awash in mystery and allure.

The corridor opens to a cavernous space, a dream-like setting that seems both mystical and modern. The first thing that strikes me is the air—it is still and cool, and emanates calm. In a slow, sweeping glance, I take in the dramatic space. High ceilings host dozens of glittering sheer curtains, which hang from ceiling to floor, unmoving in the still air. A back wall stretches high into the darkness, a temple-like mantel of uneven, slate-like stone. In the center of the wall, a giant white buddha statue rests peacefully, while a slow trickle of running water flows down the stones behind him. For a brief moment, I forget that I am in a restaurant; I feel as if I have arrived at a spiritual retreat.

We settle into one of many cavernous curved booths that line the wall, a sheer curtain shielding us from the low banquettes and freestanding tables that fill the center of the room. Curtains hang between nearly every table, in a flexible design that both affords privacy and easily accommodates large tables. When a party of eight arrives, a staff member simply—and gracefully—ties a sheer panel in a large, elegant knot about six feet in the air, transforming it from a divider to a decorative pendant. Tables are easily pushed together beneath it.

The space fills quickly, both with large parties and smaller tables of two and four. While the restaurant would make a dramatic setting for a date or celebration, the family-style portions make it particularly suited to larger groups. And there is plenty of space—in addition to the main dining room, there is a large front room, which offers a more casual alternative to the dramatic dining room. This room boasts an open, airy feel, with light tan walls, simply set tables, and a wall of windows open to the street. An adjacent patio and a separate bar hug both sides of the room, with the patio a prime spot for casual people watching.

Nestled in the main room, however, we practically forget the street exists. Amid the dark light, the mysterious curtains, and the trickling water, it is as if we are in another land. As if on cue, a menu labeled "Drink Voyage" arrives, enticing us to surrender to our journey. I opt for a classic, the Rama Thai Mojito, which proves fresh and pure, a perfect blend of mint leaves, 10-Cane rum, course cane sugar, and fresh lime juice. My companion opts for the unique, the "Tao of Rama," a blend of Skyy Melon vodka and lychee juice, strained into a martini glass and garnished with a whole lychee. A sip is elegant and exotic, the silky texture both sweet and smoky, cleansing and pure.

The menu is vast and expansive, with an enticing selection of traditional Thai dishes that will challenge even the sharpest decision-making skills. There are dozens of salads, curries, noodles, entrees, and house specialties—all Thao family recipes—but the selection doesn’t end with what’s listed on the menu. Nearly all the dishes are customizable, with guests being able to choose the heat level of many dishes and the protein accompaniment to others—chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, tofu, shrimp, squid, scallops, and duck are all options offered for the noodle and curry dishes. Luckily, in the face of so many choices, the staff is eager to make recommendations and explain anything on the menu.

A plate of Heaven Rolls is one such recommendation, and for good reason. Six plump rolls sit in a pyramid on one end of an elongated plate, accompanied by a bowl of glistening peanut sauce and a garnish of crumbled roasted peanuts. Each roll is lusciously plump, its translucent rice paper bulging with the overstuffed layers within. A bite is all about texture—the silky coating pushes against the tongue, giving way to several variations of crunch: crisp greens, fresh cucumber, bursting sprouts. A core of velvety tofu and a dip in creamy, rich peanut sauce adds decadence to each bite. The appetizer is a welcome indication of the pleasures to come.

Yum Nua is a stunning incarnation of Thai steak salad. A heaping platter of thinly sliced, chilled New York strip steak rests on a bed of baby mesclun mix, studded with wilted red onions, sliced cherry tomatoes, napa cabbage, and cilantro. Where the Heaven Rolls were a delight in texture, this dish is purely about flavor. The steak's marinade, a bewitching concoction of lime juice, chilies, and ground rice, is sweet and tangy, lending a sweet citrus rush to each bite. Red onions creep into every forkful, adding a sharp, pungent undertone that perfectly balances the lime's sweetness. The bed of baby greens hides shreds of mint and green onion and is bathed in the same tangy, refreshing mixture that comprised the marinade. Between the myriad of textures and the wide array of flavors—sweet, tart, savory and salty—this is an absolutely sensational dish.

Drunken Noodles are another signature and one of Rama’s most popular dishes. The dish features wide, flat, and fresh noodles saturated with a reddish, dark brown sauce, weaving among tender slivers of pork, tangy cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and wilted basil. The lush, silky noodles grip the equally silky sauce, a bewitching blend of soy sauce, chilies, and basil. At an “eight” spice level, the sauce boasts delicious balance of heat and flavor, with a gentle kick that pleasantly permeates without overpowering. The dish is a blend of silky elegance and exotic spice, an introduction to the pleasures that lie within another country's cuisine.

The Crying Tiger, by contrast, is an approachable dish that would please even picky eaters weary of trying new things. The dish resembles the Yum Nua in presentation, although in much more generous portions. Thick slices of New York strip sit in a nest-like tangle between sliced cherry tomatoes and slivered cucumbers. The flavors here are muted and subtle, with only a simple marinade of lemongrass lending flavor to the rich beef. An accompanying ramekin of chili sauce is pungent and tangy, the unmistakable flavor of nam pla blended with chilies, lime, and ground rice. The plump, velvety beef is luscious on its own; dipped in the sauce it provides a sultry introduction to classic Thai flavors.

Pla Kra Trim is a treat, a generous serving of a whole Red Snapper fillet, bathed in a textured blanket of rich, resonant garlic sauce. The pale, boneless filet is perfectly moist, flaking apart with the touch of a fork and boasting a rich, almost milky flavor. The gentle fish elegantly embraces the feisty garlic sauce, a blend of rich oil, fish sauce, and chunky pieces of roasted garlic. A garnish of deep fried cilantro is playful and sultry, the crisp herb lending a cleansing, smoky flavor. The dish is feisty and bold, a balance between muted, moist fish and explosive sauce, and unlike any fish preparation I have tasted.

When it comes time to conclude the meal, the Deep Fried Bananas with Chocolate Chip Ice Cream are comforting and familiar, reminiscent of childish, county fair treats. Five balls the size of donut holes sit atop a deep bowl of glistening ice cream, the dark color of toasted coconut contrasting with the pale vanilla cream. A bite is comforting, the sweet, crisp coconut shell giving way to soft banana in a simple satisfaction. The ice cream is fresh and granular, and as it melts into a sweet, milky cream, I discover that it is studded with the smoky bursts of toasted sesame seeds.

Despite the comfort of the fried bananas, I am seduced by the Mango with Sticky Rice. The traditional sweet dessert is subtle and elegant and seems the perfect last indulgence before departing such a sultry setting. A fanned half mango balances atop a ball of sticky rice, the sweet, plump fruit garnished with a thick, pale coconut sauce. The rice is sweet and warm, and each bite provides a moment of comfort to relish.

Relish is something we have done often throughout this meal. It has not only been each dish’s captivating flavors and comforting textures, but the dining room’s dramatic setting and serene vibe. With Rama, Alex Thao has created a world where a meal is holistic—where appetites are sated, but, perhaps more importantly, guests find solace in a space that is simultaneously calm and energetic, inviting both relaxation and renewal. It is this combination of food and setting that allows Rama to live up to the true, original meaning of “restaurant”—it is a place that restores, in every sense of the word.

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  Restaurant Info

  • 327 4th Avenue
    San Diego CA 92101
  • Address: 327 4th Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
  • Cross Street: K Street
  • Location: Downtown | Marina
  • Cuisine: None |
  • Cost: $$ | Inexpensive | $25 - $50
  • Category: Fine Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Recommended
  • Dress Code: Business Casual
  • Meals Served: Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: Street | Valet Parking |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | Mastercard | Discover | Diners Club |
  • Corkage Fee: N/A
  • Staff: Pannuwat Soukjai | Executive Chef
    Alex Thao | Owner
  • Phone: (619) 501-8424

  Business Hours

Monday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Tuesday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Wednesday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Thursday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Friday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Saturday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Sunday
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.

Features

Occasion

 


  F.A.Q. - Frequently Asked Questions


 Menus

Dinner Menu

Appetizers

Soup and Salad

Rice and Noodles

Specialties

From the Sea

Entrees


 User Reviews

Perfect place for a date, or group dining  

I have heard a lot about Rama recently, so I decided to try it a couple weeks ago. I absolutely loved the exotic atmosphere. The service was great and the food was amazing. Definitely the best Thai food in San Diego! It is dimly lit and each booth has sheer curtains to add a feeling of privacy. There is a waterfall against the back wall that trickles down throughout the entire night. I highly reccomend this restaurant for a romantic dinner or a place to eat for a night out on the town. Anyone visiting the area should dine here, you won't find any other Thai restaurant that compares!

Absolutely Fabulous!  

I'm a downtown resident and have experienced virtually all of the restaurants in the Gaslamp. Rama is my #1 pick for quality, price and atmosphere. The "heaven rolls" are, well, heavenly. I'm grateful to have such an excellent restaurant right down the street.

Best Thai in San Diego  

I was absolutely amazed at this restaurant. It is the first time I have had good Thai food since I moved to San Diego. The atmosphere is great, food was excellant and the service was good. Will definitely be going back there again and again.

Full of flavor!  

Brand new restaurant near to PetCo Park. Very dim and full of atmosphere for the romantics. GREAT food!! I recommend this restaurant for those who crave spice, FLAVOR, and variety. However, those who need a little more tamed spice, they offer you a range between 1-10 to fit your taste. ONE downfall that will be remedied...no liquor license! We were forced to cross the street to grab a bottle of wine and bring it over, no corkage fee will be charged. We will be back, a new favorite!

I actually prefer Celadon--  

Rama is nice and all, had a downtowny type feel to it. The thing is, when I pay for a restaurant with Thai food, I prefer a more traditional thai atmosphere more, hence my favoritism towards Celadon, Rama's sister restaurant. Celadon in Hillcrest was actually the first thai restaurant in San Diego I went to, and no other place has lived up. Anyways, Rama's back room is very nice and elegant, the food is almost mirrored to Celadon (but Celadon's seems slightly better prepared),and I dont appreciate paying more dollars for the same food because of the downtown atmosphere.

Not a place for big group  

My friend had her Grad luncheon here for a party of 26+. And well, they keep mess up on a couple of our orders. First one of our friend didn't get his soup till the main entree came, because we mention it to the server. And they forgot my Fiance's order. We had to asked about that too. They finally brought it out after everybody was done with their food. What's worst was that he ordered 'Drunken Noodle' but they give him 'Pad Thai' so we told the server this is not what he ordered. The server said something like "I Know, this is the same like Drunken Noodle but with the Pad thai noodle instead because we ran out of the flat noodle, and it taste the same like the Drunken noodle." My fiance was pissed because he was not aware that the flat noodle ran out, they just brought the "Modify Drunken noodle' out and he was so hungry so he give it a try. I tried it, the noodle was so disgusting...all he ate was the shrimp. Well so we asked for the manager again and well ... let just say the owner and manager ignored us. My fiance did not want to make a big scene so he went up and talked to the owner. He explained the situation to the owner in a professional way, stated that he did not appreciate how they change his order without notifying him and that he could've order something else because what they brought out was disgusting, and this was how the owner responded, "Well i took it off your bill already, what else do you want me to do?" My fiance was pissed at the fact they it was poorly handle... and that they could've apologize and have him order something else to eat. I gotta admit, the restaurant setting is really nice but the service and management, AWFUL!!!!

Our worst experience  

I made a reservation for 11 people at RAMA for my friend's bachelorette party dinner at 8pm and we waited for 2 and 1/2 hours, until 10:30pm and never got our dinner. I know it's a new restaurant, but we thought that was pretty ridiculous and we couldn't get food anywhere else that late for that many people, so, no dinner that night. We love dining downtown, this is truly a shame.