banana house: mangos, chicken, and fog for lunch

Perhaps it was the freezing weather – or maybe the grey skies that screamed “winter!” despite it being in the middle of July – that led my taste buds to subconsciously seek out a cuisine from one of the most tropical regions on earth: Thailand. I say this was a subconscious choice because a) I had absolutely no plans on where to go for lunch today whatsoever; and b) walked straight into a random restaurant after seeing the sign on the street. Now, for some people, this is a perfectly normal course of action; for me, though, it’s a tad unusual. I’m a pretty devoted researcher – meaning that I usually Google, Yelp, and review everything before I eat.

But not today. Because the café was named Banana House, and that is a pretty darn cute name. Plus, it was crammed full of people on their lunch breaks, so I figured it must have held some promise of gastronomic perfection. Most importantly, it offered Thai food…and oh how I’ve missed it!

The view from the street. You can even get a massage afterwards!

Close-up of the sign. Because I can.

Front view of the restaurant

After spending  less than five minutes looking at the menu, I discovered that one dish in particular kept catching my eye: the mango chicken (such a flirty little thing). This was probably unsurprising, though, seeing that I am absolutely crazy about mangos, and probably eat one every other day. In fact, I would probably eat nothing but mangos if I wasn’t so kind and didn’t care so much about being inconsiderate to the other tropical fruits.  But in all honesty, I have to say sorry, Mr. Papaya – mangos seriously rock (and I’m sure my roomie Ugne would agree).

While waiting, I took a good look around the place. The restaurant (café? Eatery?) pretty much resembled every other restaurant/café/eatery in downtown San Francisco, in terms of space and look. In other words, it was pretty much tiny, and required some degree of Matrix-like moves to navigate around the space. It was also definitely a very casual place – much more so than the other Thai restaurant next to it, which looked pretty classy. However, I wouldn’t categorize it as a “hole-in-the-wall” either – whoever did the interior designing definitely put some thought in the paint colors (which is more than I can say for a lot of acutal hole-in-the-wall diners in SF).

View from where we sat! Sorry about the darkness.

And then…it came. A lovely pineapple-ly sweet and sour soup. What a pleasant surprise! Maybe I hadn’t read the menu carefully enough, but I definitely did not expect anything else, which made the complimentary appetizer all the better. I must admit that is one of my biggest weaknesses – free food. Few things in life are better – except, perhaps, taro buns. And traveling. And people. Although the “people” part is sometimes negotiable.

The broth I found to be quite savory and flavorful – tart from the pineapples, but also uplifting and sweet. Very nice.

Mmm…I love edible surprises.

And of course, the chicken! Oh, the mango chicken! To my hungry stomach, it looked oh-so-beautiful, just lying on that plate, begging to be eaten. I wanted to devour it. Of course I did. But no, I waited first to take pictures of it with the best tool a foodie can ask for: my i-Phone.

It’s magically delicious! But not bad for you like Trix. Or was it Lucky Charms? Anyhoo, the mango chicken features “stir-fried white meat chicken with yellow mango, onion, pineapple, cashew nuts, and mushrooms.”

And then I took a bite..and truthfully…was kind of disappointed. Hmm.  I had actually expected the curry to be a little bit thicker – it was a tad too watered down for my taste.  In addition, it was much too bland, and could have used some more spices and herbs. The peanut sauce that accompanied the side salad, too, was too thin; I had expected and hoped for something creamier and more substantial.

Sad face.

Nonetheless, I did find the chicken to be incredibly tender and succulent, which was definitely a plus (along with the rice…although it is quite difficult to mess rice up). And the mangos! Oh the mangos… so delightfully juicy and sweet and luscious and golden! There was a fair amount of mango chunks in the dish too – far more than I had expected (I had expected something more along the line of little diced cubes). I must say that I devoured those up relatively quickly.

Ooh pretty. I like gold things. Especially if they’re edible. And look at the size of those mango chunks!

Overall though, I must say that the dining experience was so-so. Pretty good and enjoyable for a solid meal (or two meals), but not enough for the price (the total came out to about $11 with tax and tip). The dish – at least the mango chicken – did not taste too authentic either; I’ve definitely have had way better Thai food for much, much cheaper.

Nevertheless, I must remember that it is San Francisco, and thus, the price for lunch downtown will come out to be more expensive than the prices in the different districts. In addition, I had only tried one dish on the menu, which is definitely not enough to judge an entire restaurant by – and to be fair, I did manage to finish every last ounce of food on that dish – which is saying something.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll be back for more, especially with all the other eateries still waiting to be discovered in the city – but at least I can’t say I didn’t try!

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