Se Somjai Restaurant - New Bayside Home For A Venerable Thai Favorite
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
If you like Thai food and have never tried Somjai Vongjalorn's special home-style Thai cuisine, then you owe it to yourself and your taste buds to stop at her brand new home in East Hagatna between Bob's Whispering Palms and Cars Plus. Though she's re-named Somjai "Se Somjai" (she was originally thinking of having two locations, but later changed her mind), the new location has certainly given her more space and lots more parking behind the building - in fact, when you park in any of the designated spaces, you'll probably be transfixed by the mesmerizing bay view, a gentle breeze and the sound of the waves lapping up against the shoreline just a few feet away.
The restaurant is big, with two dining areas...the restaurant has tripled the seating capacity from the last location which was hidden away in Tamuning across from AK. This new place demands attention and filling...you know how it is with nature "abhorring a vacuum" and the same should go for this place. Somjai's followers and fans have been coming in, but more people need to come and experience Somjai's warm and sweet hospitality. She's just a darling as she walks out and talks to customers. You can feel that she genuinely loves welcoming her guests and really wants to make sure you are enjoying your meal just as though you were a guest in her home...she's that sincere!
We started off with an appetizer we'd heard about, the Deep Fried Pork ($10). This is probably one of the best fried pork dishes I've ever had, and seems to be an ideal "appetite whetter." You've got to try this, since it is cooked to an ideal doneness (not dry, but still tender and juicy) in a crisp, lightly seasoned batter. The sweet chili dipping sauce is what takes this appetizer to stardom. Sliced green onions and chopped peppers adorn the flavorful sauce, which is more and more awesome bite after spicy bite!
Our next dish was the Combination Pad Thai ($10, Chicken $7.50). This traditional favorite was made without fish sauce and had lots of egg, bean sprouts, onions, shrimp, chicken and rice noodles with a small pile of red chili pepper on the side to add more zing to the blend for the ambitious. We did and it was a marvelous Pad Thai. The portion size was just enough to share.
Not being terribly hungry we only ordered one additional dish and that was the Pad Ka Poa ($7.50), which is a stir-fried mix of chicken, onions, peppers, and fresh basil in a magnificent thick brown gravy that only Somjai can make. She really has her sauces down...something that comes from over 30 years of experience. Other dishes you should try are the Fried Chicken ($10), Tom Yum Soup ($7.50 Chicken, $10 Shrimp), Garlic & Black Pepper Shrimp ($10), Chicken Curry ($8) which we had on a subsequent visit and the sauce was heavenly, and Grilled Steak Thai Style (Beef,Pork or Chicken $10). Somjai will create dishes to order, especially if you want vegetarian...just tell her what you'd like!
Somjai's has been open for about 18 years in various locations and this is her fifth. In fact, it's just down and across the street from a previous location next to Citibank that was destroyed by a typhoon. In our prior review two years ago, we talked about the calamities Somjai experienced in her other restaurants, which included two fires that closed her down twice! Her resilient spirit has always prevailed - someone this nice deserves to stay open.
Se Somjai is open daily until 10pm for lunch and dinner service, starting the day at 10am Monday to Saturday and 12 noon on Sundays. The restaurant is clean and spacious with huge air-conditioning and melodious Thai music that keeps you in the mood for more Thai food. There is a small pile of interesting books on a number of topics, from travel to food, that you can read if you like. These are brought in by Somjai's longtime friend and bibliophile, Sid Breakey, who you'll probably see sitting at his table reading a tome or two. Sid and I instantly struck up a friendship, probably because we both share two passions in life, that of being "well-read" and "well-fed," and when you go to Se Somajai's Restaurant, you'll definitely see why.