An SF celeb chef opens a cool new Thai spot in Oakland

A selection of dishes from Jo’s Modern Thai. Photo credit: Angela Hong

The anticipation for Jo’s Modern Thai in Oakland’s Laurel District is growing. “Many neighbors checked us out and asked when we would open. We’ve been building this for seven months now, ”says Oakland native owner Kao Saelee, who is still waiting for the restaurant’s liquor license to be approved. With a menu from an avid chef and a drinks schedule from a popular local bar manager, its debut can’t come soon enough.

You may recognize Chef Intu-on Kornnawong, a veteran of Michelin-starred Kin Khao, LA’s Night + Market, and Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. Her breakout hit pop-up, the eponymous Intu-on, lures people to places like the Birba Wine Bar and the Hidden Cafe in Berkeley. Kornnawong worked with Saelee on the menu and will also serve as the cook in Jo’s kitchen. “As I walked through the restaurant, I said, ‘This is the kitchen I want to work in,'” said Kornnawong. “I want to make more grilled dishes. I also want to learn more about the people of the East Bay. … The people there really support you; If they like your food, they will keep coming back. ”

Jo’s Morkang cake. Photo credit: Angela Hong

Kornnawong emphasized that the food at Jo’s Modern Thai will be different from the dishes served in their pop-up. “At Intu-on, my food was mostly Isaan, Northeastern Thai food, but here at Jo it’s a cool new menu” focused on Thai snacks and family meals, not a specific region. Instead, the menu will reflect Kornnawong’s Californian and Thai influences, as well as recipes from her and Saelee’s families. Expect dishes made from local and seasonal produce from Radical Family Farms in Sebastopol and Lee Family Farm in Fresno, plus ingredients from Oaklands Hodo Foods, Smokin ‘Woods BBQ and Little Giant Ice Cream. However, lovers of Intus Pop-up should take heart; Some of these dishes will return as specials at Jo’s from time to time.

The Thai Lobster Pad at Jo’s. Photo credit: Angela Hong

Highlights on the menu are Jo’s “famous party wings” (fried pandan fish sauce, chicken wings with crispy garlic, served with spicy Jaew sauce and sweet and sour mayonnaise), a pork laab burger (an Isaan-style pork patty, served with lettuce, cucumber, herbs, fried shallots, laab dressing and macrut lime mayonnaise), lobster pad thai, pad kee mao with grilled brisket from Smokin Woods and a red curry with pork. Desserts include crowd-pleasers like mango with sticky rice, as well as mango sorbet, seasonal shave ice with a variety of flavors, and Thai taro pudding tartlets served with Little Giant vanilla bean ice cream.

On the drinks front, Tayler Sampson, former bar manager at Starline Social Club, has put together a menu of fun, tropical-themed cocktails with fresh Thai herbs and fruits. The Phuket Fizz, for example, offers a twist on the mango and coconut flavor combination with house mango vodka, coconut water, coconut condensed milk, lemon and soda. Jo’s also serves Thai beer (chang), natural wines, and local beers.

Assuming that Jo’s approvals proceed as planned, the new restaurant will open its 45-seat dining room in mid-July. Jo’s also has 25 seats on the back terrace, which are open for brunch and lunch as soon as the restaurant is full and the service is running smoothly.

Saelee, whose family has been running the Thai restaurant Racha Cafe in Berkeley for 16 years, is looking forward to making his dream come true. “It’s always been something I wanted to do, have my own place. As a foodie (and) raised in the East Bay, I feel that this neighborhood needs a place like this, “a lively place where everyone is equally welcome: from solo dinners to drinks and snacks at the bar ordered, to neighbors looking for a good meal for festive groups of family and friends meeting for a delicious meal and festive drinks.

The opening of Jo’s Modern Thai is tentatively planned for July 16; Keep an eye on Instagram for the latest. The opening times are from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesdays to Sundays, with take-away service over toast.

The pork laab burger at Jo’s Modern Thai. Photo credit: Angela Hong

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