Sombat’s Fresh Thai is simply the most delicious Thai food Big Island has to offer. The walls inside its downtown Hilo restaurant are strewn with “Best Of” awards from local newspapers spanning back many years, and its large portions, friendly waitstaff and consistent quality has built a large, loyal following in a city with many other Southeast Asian eateries to choose from.
The restaurant is named after its owner and one-woman-show, Sombat Saenguthai, who cooks, serves and grows the herbs for the vast majority of the delicious entrees being served up in its small dining room, and in the stream of brown paper bag takeout orders constantly being run out the door.
Her menu is varied but not overwhelming: appetizers of spring rolls and basil rolls, fried tofu and chicken satay, with add-ons like the legendary green papaya salad, bean thread noodle salad, and even shrimp and squid salads. Noodle dishes range from the staples pad Thai and pad see ew, to lesser known variations like pad lard nah with its mound of flat noodles cooked with broccoli and a thick, savory sauce, to pad kee mow with chili peppers, mint and basil. She even makes a Thai version of the classic Chinese noodle dish chow mein.
For those wanting something a bit lighter, Sombat’s served bowls of Tom Yum and coconut soup, made with mushrooms, onions and an assortment of Thai spices. Or choose from the list of vegetarian specialities: coconut vegetable soup, veggie fried rice, bean-thread noodles with vegetable stir fry, and sweet and sour vegetables.
The curries at Sombat’s are legendary: pineapple curry made with chunks of fresh, locally grown pineapples, veggies and coconut milk; Penang Curry with it’s salty, sweet lime-zest of string beans cooked in coconut milk; green curry with eggplant and sweet basil, yellow curry with carrots and potatoes, red curry with bamboo shoots and red chili peppers, and Massaman Curry with peanuts and potatoes. These come with either Jasmine or brown rice, and in variations like chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, fish, seafood combo or vegetarian.
Last but not least is the assortment of fried rice, like spicy fried rice, Thai fried rice and pineapple fried rice, as well as the menu of stir-fries: sweet and sour, eggplant, garlic and pepper, ginger and bean sauce and sauteed cashew. For drinks, Sombat’s makes a terrific Thai Iced Tea – a thick, sweet concoction made from strongly-brewed black tea with flavors of star anise, tamarind, cardamom and others, similar in flavor to masala chai tea. And for dessert: homemade ice cream, Thai tapioca with coconut milk, and fried banana spring rolls.
How To Get There:
Sombat’s Fresh Thai Cuisine is located near the downtown strip of Hilo – Big Island’s largest city – very near to Hilo International Airport. It can be found less than a block away from the intersection of Kamehameha Avenue running along the city’s bayfront, and Highway 11, otherwise known as Hawaii Belt Road, which from there heads south towards Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Sombat’s can sometimes be closed on random days with little advance notice, so calling in an order ahead of time is smart. The restaurant is currently open for take-out only from 4:00pm to 8:00pm, Monday through Saturday. It is just one of the stores comprising Waiakea Kai Shopping Plaza, which has great spots to grab a coffee or beer such as The Sippen Siren coffee shop and Joann’s Lounge Bar.