It’s the end of the month and therefore time for another installment of Travels with Frenchie, the monthly food series in which a trio of culturally mismatched San Antonians explores the San Antonio hinterland in search of dining adventure. As always, the culinary vice squad consisted of: Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, celebrated local sommelier), Carlos the Bike Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, a man who eats only obscure fruits and grilled meats), and me (a former vegan and known taco-truck stalker). This month we were joined by Zane Doe who works at Twin Sisters downtown and is the frontman for local band the Colt of Us. (Spoiler alert: what follows appears to be written like a hardboiled detective novel for no apparent reason at all.)
We heard some strong word on the street about a new place on McCullough called Yaya’s Thai … so we went. The reality of local Thai food (according to me) is that most customers think their favorite joint is the cat’s pajamas, when in actuality the vast majority of Thai restaurants are about the same, use the same quality of ingredients, and don’t do diddly to separate themselves from the pack. It takes someone with something to prove to shake things up. Enter Yaya, who used to work at Tong’s Thai on Austin Highway before she opened her own place in royal Olmos Park. That sort of ambition gets our attention.
We started with two apps: fish cakes and fried spring rolls. The fish cakes were salty, spongy, and packed with a good amount of lemongrass. In Zane’s words, they were like “Thai Spam, with the consistency of gryo meat.” This wasn’t a complaint because he thought they were very, very good. The fried spring rolls were a hit with everyone — not oily, a thin crispy outer edge, filled with pork that wasn’t overcooked. Our group was confident these were as good as we’ve seen in town.
The main course. Fried rice came first. Carlos liked that the beef and chicken weren’t dry and the shrimp wasn’t rubbery. Spoken like a man who’s been burned by bad fried rice before. He loved the abundant egg found throughout the dish. Zane commented favorably on the presentation (a theme that would continue throughout the meal) and Fabien especially liked the quality of the shrimp for a Sunday night. According to Zane and Frenchie, late-in-the-week shrimp is a roll of the dice because it’s usually delivered early in the week. I’m happy to say the quality of ingredients was excellent (another theme that would continue throughout the meal). Things were off to a great start.
My favorite entrée was the Panang curry with New York strip steak. The presentation of the steak and Thai basil was beautiful. Beef at most Thai places is cheap and tough as nails. Not surprisingly it’s usually served in overabundance to bludgeon you into satisfaction. Of course, serving New York strip puts more pressure on Yaya to deliver the goods. At $14.99 it’s one of the higher-priced curry dishes it town, but they do a magnificent job. We ordered it medium for the meat and the spice level. The red spiced peanut curry had an amazing texture and would have been good enough on its own, but worked even better with the superior cut of meat.
Our final entrée was the Hit and Run — a fried duck that the waiter declared the best thing on the menu. Frenchie, Carlos, and Zane didn’t disagree. Frenchie was very impressed with how well the duck was cooked — crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Very tasty. Along with the duck, broccoli, carrots, and cabbage swam in a savory and sweet broth, which Zane and Carlos fell in love with. In fact, Carlos even ate some vegetables just to get more of the broth. Carlos hasn’t eaten vegetables since Ronald Reagan was in office. Yaya, our hats are off to you.
Frenchie: I love the freshness of the dishes. A great meal at a great price.
Carlos: The Hit and Run was easily the best of all.
Zane: The duck was the best bird I’ve had in as long as I can remember.
Me: Yaya has raised the bar for the local Thai dining scene. •
Yaya’s Thai Restaurant
and Sushi Bar