Chick’n Rice Specializes in Khao Mun Gai
Four Cal grads bring an easy Thai concept to Berkeley.
The thing that’s celebrated is Thai poached chicken over rice—khao mun gai.
Photo by Lori Eanes
When they were UC Berkeley students, all four—Jason Wang, Vince Cao, Shawn Tsao, and John Keh—would have loved to patronize a restaurant selling tasty, tender khao mun gai on the busy block between campus and Downtown Berkeley BART. Khao mun gai is Thai poached chicken over rice.
But that was 10 years ago, when no such restaurant yet existed. So this year, the quartet launched one themselves.
First, however, they founded Caviar. Founding the meal-delivery company in 2012, the four avid Cal Bears fans sold it two years later to mobile-payments startup Square. Wang was then approached by famed Thai restaurateur Chavayos “Bob” Rattakul, who “pitched him the idea of starting a fast-casual Thai restaurant group in America,” Keh recalled.
“Bob offered to show us a bunch of places in Thailand where we could have a good adventure together sampling different versions of khao mun gai,” said Keh, who grew up in a restaurant-industry family. One great-uncle is credited with introducing Szechuan food to New York City 50 years ago. Keh has, since the age of 5, loved khao mun gai’s close but milder Chinese cousin, Hainanese chicken.
“Once we had chosen our favorites during the Thai trip, Bob sent his chefs out to sample them as well, then narrowed down their recipes to one we could use in our restaurant,” Keh said.
That recipe, now used to make Chick’n Rice’s signature dish, features Marin Sun Farms free-range poultry poached with ginger, garlic, Thai chiles, and fermented Thai soybean paste. Chick’n Rice also serves versions made with braised Marin Sun Farms pork, fried tofu, and fried chicken. “Because we wanted something more American-flavored, and because Berkeley has lots of vegetarians,” Keh said.
A sweet chili sauce augments the fried versions.
Add-ons include Chinese broccoli and soy-marinated hard-boiled eggs “with slightly runny yolks, the way the Japanese make them,” Keh said. Dessert is sticky rice topped with mango cubes and rich ice cream in classic Thai flavors such as coconut and lychee.
“We fell in love with this combination,” Keh said, “during those hot days in Thailand.”
Chick’n Rice, 2136 Center St., Berkeley,