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Four Sonoma County spots for tempting Thai takeout

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I know plenty of people who cook Thai food at home, and they enjoy mastering the often complex recipes. Yet, while cooking has become a larger pastime for me these past few months of isolation, I prefer to leave Thai cuisine to the experts.

Why mess with perfection, after all, when there are talents like chef-owner Tony Ounpamornchai, wowing us with modern Thai at his Sea Thai Bistro in Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village? It seems counterproductive for me to stress out over making his delectable Zen soup, trying to achieve the magical balance of spicy-sweet ginger-chrysanthemum- cilantro broth dotted with shimeji mushrooms and tofu in an undercurrent of seared garlic. I can simply call in an order and grab a piping-hot bowl curbside for just $9.

Even for simpler dishes, like pumpkin curry, I’d rather not scour local Asian markets for ingredients when cafés like Lynn’s Thai in Cotati do such a delectable version with meaty, nutty Asian pumpkin; chicken; garlicky red curry paste; chunky carrot; zucchini; bell pepper and just the right amount of fragrant basil ($12.95). I order online and bam, it’s done.

Here are some of my other favorite go-tos for tempting Thai:

Jhanthong Banbua

The faded gray temple-style eatery looks like a dive from the street, but this under-the-radar gem on Mendocino Avenue near Administration Drive is fresh, clean and elegant inside. It sure impresses too, with its solid old school cooking and boldly flavored dishes served in generous portions.

It’s a great place to explore somewhat unusual plates like pla muek yang, a Thailand street stall favorite of grilled calamari bathed in spicy chile-kissed sweet-and-sour sauce, crushed peanuts and cilantro ($13), or yum tawai, an ancient Tibetan-Burmese recipe marrying steamed mixed vegetables with an earthy red chili paste dressing finished in sweet coconut milk, peanuts and crispy roasted coconut ($10).

Toothsome kaw moodang honey-roasted pork is delicious all on its own, arranged over steamed rice. But add in crisp cucumber and savory red wine-black bean sauce, and it’s superb ($12.95). Spicy sweet-and-sour sauce makes an excellent glistening accent to khanom jeen tod num, as well, the fresh thin Thai rice noodles topped with crisp-edged fish cakes, sliced cucumber and ground peanuts ($13.95).

Note: web searches will take you to an allmenus.com site, but that menu is out of date. You can find the current menu on Facebook (facebook.com/Jhanthong-Banbua), posted on March 24.

2400 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-528-8048

Spring Thai

Owner Mary Gillean debuted her café next to Oliver’s Market in Cotati in early 2018 and quickly welcomed crowds coming in for her classic but also periodically offbeat recipes. There are the expected bites like golden fried egg rolls stuffed with taro root, glass noodles, carrots and cabbage ($8), but also tasty adventures including a fried spinach salad piled high in crispy, feather-light tempura greens, cashew nuts, red onions, carrot ribbons and silky avocado slabs drizzled in house vinaigrette ($10).

The crunchy salad makes a great sidekick to richer dishes like the avocado salmon curry, a lovely creation of a grilled salmon fillet bathed in coconut milk green curry sauce with carrots, broccoli, bamboo shoots, eggplant, onions and Thai basil to be spooned atop a side of rice ($20). The avocado sounds like an odd extra, but the thick slabs are creamy and cuddle with the salmon.

Go for the duck curry, too, the roasted bird tumbled in red curry sauce with tomatoes, carrots, Thai basil, bamboo shoots, broccoli, onions and a sweet touch of pineapple ($18). And while normally I’m not a fan of pad thai — it’s usually too sweet for my taste — this is a benchmark recipe I really enjoy. The pan-fried thin rice noodles, green onion and choice of meats or tofu are shaped into a dome, capped in a thin crackly egg “net,” then garnished with julienne carrot, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts and cilantro ($12).

The kitchen likes to have fun with presentation for the sweet mango and sticky rice dessert ($8), designing the combo in the shape of a daisy, a budding rose or a pinwheel toy.

538 E. Cotati Avenue, Cotati, 707-665-5180, springthai.net

Lemongrass Thai

If you dine in, you usually score a free sample of the shrimp chips, but it’s well worth the $4.79 for a big to-go pile of the light, crispy, golden-green chicharron- style nibbles.

I also always gravitate toward the soul-comforting duck noodle soup bobbing with roast sliced poultry, slippery rice noodles, bean sprouts and cilantro in fatty, rich duck broth ($13.89), plus a side of sweet-sour shredded green papaya salad tossed with green bean, tomato and peanut in a savory fish sauce-lime dressing ($8.69).

Anything marked on the menu as “spicy” is an extra joy if you crave heat. The stir-fried prawns tumbled with mixed vegetables and eggplant arrives draped in a red panang curry that is thick, salty and slightly sweet with a pleasing burn ($14.89). Spicy basil sauce is another happily fiery addition to dishes like Pad Basil of sautéed vegetables, basil leaves and pork ($11.49), while a side of pineapple fried rice tempers the flames with forkfuls of soothing stir-fried chicken, shrimp, fruit, egg, carrots and peas ($12.89).

109 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, 707-789-9777, lemongrassthaicuisinepetaluma.com

Tiny Thai

For such a tiny space (seating just a dozen in a closet-size storefront and a few sidewalk tables on Cotati’s main drag) and tiny kitchen, the flavors here are huge. It’s a lovely spot, dreamed up by Kack Brightman, who hails from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.

It’s so tiny, in fact, that takeout has long been a specialty. The kitchen has nailed the process, protecting the crispy integrity of Tiny Rolls ($6.95), the slender, crispy wonton piccolos stuffed with ground chicken, prawns, carrot and peas, for dunking in sweet-sour sauce. And the details aren’t overlooked, even when packed in a box: jasmine, Thai sticky purple or fried rice are molded into heart or volcano shapes; veggies like carrot and cucumber are carved into rosettes.

Besides classics like excellent Tom Yum soup with chicken, beef, pork or tofu (small $5.95/large $8.95, +$3 for prawns), signature dishes include ample portions of roast duck curry ($13.99) and crispy prawns paired with asparagus in a silky pineapple-coconut milk sauce ($14.99). Combos are great bargains, including a chicken curry of the day with jasmine rice, pad Thai and egg roll (lunch $8.99/$10.99 dinner), or the above enhanced with two Tiny Rolls and two chicken satay brightened with peanut sauce (lunch $10.99/$12.99 dinner).

Fair warning: order spicy, and you’ll get it. Even medium-level is a blast of tongue-searing heat.

8238 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati, 707-794-9404

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