My husband and I went on our honeymoon (slightly delayed by 3 years) to Thailand and had a pleasure of visiting Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket. We took a cooking class in Bangkok that we absolutely loved and had the chance to eat the local food in Chiang Mai which was equally delicious. We returned to San Antonio craving the same flavors and were so excited that a new Thai place had opened up a few blocks away: Baan Essan. The name means ‘Home of the East’ and it specializes in the food of northeastern Thailand.
Located across the street from Taco Haven and down the street from Bliss, Baan Esaan is situated in the cozy corner of S Presa where it meets Vance St and Claudia St. The entrance is simple and clean just like their food.
The first time I visited they had a cold lemongrass tea that was really refreshing, however the next time I went they didn’t have any. Instead I had a fresh coconut ($5) which was imported from Thailand and full of cool coconut water to the top and soft coconut meat you can scoop with a spoon. This was the best fresh coconut that I have had in the United States so far and definitely worth the price in my opinion. It made me feel like I was back in Chiang Mai sipping coconut water on the street.
We had a meeting with five other people and I think that going in a group is really nice if you enjoy eating family style and want to try a variety of dishes. However, as a vegetarian my options were extremely limited to the Papaya salad and Kao Jee (sticky rice patties).
Top to Bottom: Tiger Cry ($9), Kao Jee ($5), Esaan Sausage ($10 for 3 sausages), Som Tum ($10 for Papaya version), Pork Laab ($9) and Beef Naam Thok ($9)
All of our friends really enjoyed the meat dishes and said that the flavors were very different than the Thai food that they have encountered in the past. One of the four owners, Albert, sat and spoke with us about the food and his passion for the Esaan region in particular was really captivating. I think our waitress the first time we went was his wife, Sarah, and she was equally welcoming and charming the way that the Esaan people are described on the menu. Apparently she is also a pop star in Thailand… hope we get to hear her sing some time in the future! The hospitality and kindness that we experienced in Thailand was like no other country I have visited and it has definitely been carried over by Albert and Sarah and their business partners to their restaurant.
One thing they are working on is the spice levels with the dishes – they range from (1) mild, (2) moderate, to (3) spicy, however the times that I have gotten the Som Tum Papaya salad I ordered a 3 the first time and my face felt like it was melting and then ordered a 2 and it was still a little too hot for me. The chilis vary in spice level considerably and so if you are averse to spice, stick with 1 or 1/2. The papaya salad is shown to come with peanuts, however the two times I had it – it didn’t. I think that adds a lot to the salad and hope in the future it will come with crushed peanuts like we had in Thailand.
Later in the meal, Albert brought out a sauce that he called ‘Pico de Thai-o’ and it was delicious! It was the perfect blend of sour, spicy, sweet, and salty and I wish I could take it home and put it on everything I eat. I look forward to trying more things like that at our future visits to the restaurant.
Albert mentioned that they were working on an updated menu and I really hope that it includes more vegetables. The only vegetables we noted (other than the salad) on the dishes were really crispy romaine lettuce (which is really good to cool the spicy food) and cucumbers. To a couple who eats a lot of veggies at dinner, it just didn’t seem like a complete meal without a few vegetable dishes.
I think Baan Esaan is the perfect place for an adventurous omnivore to try Northeastern Thai cuisine and there is nowhere like it in the entire city of San Antonio. I hope you go and try it out!
Location: 1035 S Presa St, San Antonio, TX 78210
Hours: Tues – Thurs: 11am – 3pm & 5pm – 9pm. Fri & Sat: 11am – 3pm & 5pm – 10pm.
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/baanesaan/