Khao Kaeng Opens on Coast Village Road

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   November 15, 2018
The talent behind Khao Kaeng: Buck Thananaken, Emre Balli, Jerry Lee, Shayna Berger, and Nui Pannak

Khao Kaeng, the newest concept from the owners behind the widely popular Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar at the Santa Barbara Public Market, has opened on Coast Village Road. The eatery is located in Coast Village Plaza (1187 Coast Village Road), in the lower space formerly occupied by Here’s the Scoop. 

Khao Kaeng, offering elevated Thai cuisine, has opened on Coast Village Road

“People are excited we are here, and that they don’t have to go downtown for our food,” said co-owner Jerry Lee about the soft opening, which took place earlier this month. Lee, along with co-owners Emre Balli and Nui Pannak, describe the menu as elevated Thai cuisine, with a selection of specialty dishes not found on traditional Thai menus. Pannak, who heads up the kitchen, makes everything from scratch, including the house-made curry and chuchi pastes, stir-fry sauce, peanut sauce, and more. The recipes hail from Pannak’s home in Bangkok, Thailand. “You can taste how truly authentic the food is,” Lee said. “Our lamb curry is the favorite so far.” 

The trio of owners, along with general manager Shayna Berger, has a long history together, working at various upscale eateries in town including San Ysidro Ranch nearly a decade ago. Lee and Balli both moved from the Ranch’s Stonehouse restaurant to the El Encanto, while Berger headed up the opening of Convino at the Santa Barbara Inn. “We know each other well, and we knew we could make our own restaurant a success,” Lee said. 

Permitting and remodeling of the space took nearly a year, as the build-out required ADA improvements as well as modifications to accommodate the kitchen. In additional to traditional seating, the space includes a custom bar area plus a large communal table. “In Asian cultures, we see a lot of family gatherings with people eating ‘family-style,’” Lee said. “We knew we wanted a space for that.” The communal table also accommodates walk-in customers, which Lee says brings a different energy to the restaurant, with people chatting with their neighbors. There are about 35 seats inside, and 40 seats outside on the heated patio.  

The aesthetic at Khao Kaeng – which is translated to mean “curry on rice” in Thai – is contemporary and chic, and includes Asian art and artifacts from Lee’s travels. The stone-wear serving dishes and plates are all artisan-made, curated to showcase the food, and golden silverware featuring the image of the Buddha was imported from Thailand. A partially exposed wine cellar near the bar boasts an array of handpicked selections, some of which are not offered by any other restaurants. “We’ve leaned on the relationships we’ve built over the years to bring really special wines to the menu, in addition to Sake,” said Balli. 

The team says they are happy to accommodate food allergies and sensitivities, as well as preferences, and are able to modify most dishes to be gluten-free or nut-free. “We are conscious about the consumer and want everyone to feel taken care of,” Lee said. 

Khao Kaeng is currently open for dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 pm Sunday through Thursday, and until 10 pm on Friday and Saturday. Lunch service will be offered early next year. For more information, visit 


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