Bai Yook Thai Cuisine
1260 University Ave. (Hillcrest)
Happy Hour: 4 to 7 p.m., daily
Come on Get Happy | Dr. Ink!
Enter the words Bai Yook on Google and thousands of results turn up, most of them highlighting the 15-year-old Hillcrest restaurant that has become a favored destination for Thai cuisine. But unless you ask the staff for a translation of the name, or conduct an Internet search for Bai Yok instead, you’d never know the phrase converts to “sculptured jade leaf” or “good luck leaves,” as our waitress explained.
Bai Yook’s preeminence on the web reveals a daily happy hour that allows you to slug Singha beers for $3 apiece or sip on merlot, chardonnay and soju cocktails for an easy $4. The discount menu also lists “solids” priced between $4 and $6, should your appetite become triggered by the sight and smell of full meals being served to surrounding dinner customers.
Think sweet mojito when ordering the Han soju cocktail, a fitting herald to summer that blends light Asian vodka instead of rum with lemon grass, fresh mint and lime. A pretty paper umbrella rising from the glass is a telling clue that the drink tastes pleasantly sugary rather than outright boozy.
The cocktail became our cool-down for some of the ravishing hot sauces accompanying our low-priced appetizers. Thai fried chicken ($5), for example, sprung to life when applying dabs of thick chili paste onto the crispy skins. Better yet, the plate featured an unexpected trio of drumsticks large enough to constitute as billy clubs. Visiting with a vegetarian friend, my attempt to consume them solo proved fruitless. Two were enough to fill the stomach.
We added to the order “tofu tod,” priced at $4 and served on the same platter as the chicken, but at a safe distance. These soft, spongy cubes were predictably mild in flavor until we introduced them to the hottest condiment on the table: teeny Thai chili peppers swimming in fish sauce and rice vinegar. The icy soju cocktails sitting under our tearing eyes became a necessity.
Bai Yook’s atmosphere is serenely decompressing, offering a screened-in patio that runs parallel to a narrow, intimate dining room. Ornate woodwork painted gold dominates the scheme, adding a regal welcome when entering through its humble façade set within a strip-plaza. Parking is relatively easy if you arrive at the very start of happy hour (4 p.m.) before diners start pouring in for peanut steaks and Bangkok duck.
Discounted drinks are limited to Singha beer, house merlot or chardonnay and a singular soju cocktail spiked with lemon grass and fresh mint.
The Thai fried chicken features three large drumsticks that are crispy and all-American tasting until drizzling them with various Thai sauces. An order of toasted tofu cubes was also generously portioned. Other offerings include beef or chicken satay and fried spring rolls.
Expect to save about $2 on each drink and appetizer.
The gracious servers are quick to seat you, and orders arrive within minutes to the table.
Happy hour is offered daily, allowing weekday workaholics to imbibe on soju and Thai beer for cheap on precious weekends.