Santa Maria Sun / Eats
A taste of Thai: Boonie Thai has been serving the authentic cuisine in Santa Maria for 18 years
BY WENDY THIES SELL
Bangkok, Thailand native Boonie Walton came to the United States more than three decades ago seeking better schooling for her children.
In 1995, she bought a restaurant on East Main Street in Santa Maria and named it Boonie Thai Cuisine, after herself.
“I try to make everything exactly how we eat it in Thailand,” the 68-year-old self-taught cook told me while we sat in a pink booth at lunchtime. I have enjoyed dining at Boonie’s for well over a decade. She has a lot of loyal customers.
“Still smiling,” the cheerful Boonie said with a broad grin. “I’m happy when the customers say, “Oh, Boonie, I like your food!”
She told me that her most popular dishes are the seafood combination, pad Thai, yellow curry, pad nang, spicy Thai fried rice, and spicy noodle.
There are a dozen appetizers on the menu, such as stuffed chicken wings—deep-fried, boneless wings stuffed with ground pork, bean-thread noodles, and bamboo shoots served with cucumber relish ($8.95).
I always order a Thai soup to start, usually the classic hot and sweet tom kha gai soup ($5.50 a bowl). I adore the aroma and flavor of coconut, lemongrass, and lime. I like to add white rice to the soup.
Boonie Thai has 10 soups on the menu, including meatball spicy soup, egg drops in heavy soup, wonton soup, and Siam sea soup (seafood combo).
During my most recent visit, I ordered from the “Noodles” category, trying the seafood combination with noodles—soft, flat rice noodles with shrimp, scallops, squid, crabmeat, egg, onions, and bean sprouts ($8.95).
It’s now one of my favorites! I ordered it “mild,” but Boonie brought to my table some of her tasty Thai chili sauce created from scratch.
Kicking up the heat a notch added a delicious dimension that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Nearly every dish can be ordered mild, medium, or spicy hot. Some customers believe they are up for the challenge of eating the spiciest food that Boonie can dish out.
“When people say, ‘make me cry,’ I say, ‘don’t say that, you’re going to cry, believe me,’” Boonie said with a wry smile.
One thing that won’t make you shed a tear is your bill at the end of your meal.
Boonie has chosen not to raise menu prices in five or six years. She’s a smart shopper, keeping the costs down for her customers.
“Think about it: people are poor, the economy is bad,” Boonie explained. “If you raise the price, how are they going to eat? They can come here and enjoy it at this price.”
At lunch on weekdays, Boonie Thai offers four specials priced at just $6.50. The recent lunch specials included sweet-and-sour chicken, beef brown curry, green bean with pork, and chow mein noodle, served with rice and an egg roll, rice and salad, or soup. The specials change every two weeks.
Boonie’s daughter, Rachel Hargadon, takes care of customers during the busy lunchtime. Boonie and her husband, Otis Walton, are fixtures in the restaurant at dinnertime.
The restaurant also offers such healthful options as brown rice, silver noodles (made with soy beans), tofu, and fresh vegetables.
Boonie makes 11 salads, such as lemon dressing salad—sliced chicken on top of crisp lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and onion, featuring Boonie’s homemade lemon dressing ($7.50).
Under the category “Seafood Specials,” there are 14 choices, including Love Boat—jumbo shrimp, chicken, coconut milk, sweet-and-sour sauce, cashew nuts, baby corn, bell pepper, green onions, and pineapple ($13.95).
There are eight curries on the menu, including honey-roast duck curry, green curry, red curry, yellow chicken curry, and country-style curry (ranging in price from $7.95 to $8.95).
Even with her 70th birthday on the horizon, the warm, hard-working great-grandmother has no plans to retire.
“I love to cook,” Boonie said. “And I love all my customers!”
(Boonie had a second location in Grover Beach, but she has closed that restaurant, choosing to focus entirely on her original restaurant in her hometown, Santa Maria.)
Boonie Thai Cuisine, located at 618 E. Main St. in Santa Maria, is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
Sun food and wine columnist Wendy Thies Sell is loyal to a good thing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.