Eye on UCSD: Hi Thai

When the Student Center study lounge groupies came back from spring break and wandered over to their favorite haven to get some reading done, they noticed something different. The aromas of the lounge had evolved from the odor of paint to that of exotic spices, and the seating area seemed to have transformed from quiet and concentrated scholars to talkative students and faculty. But the most visible change was the lines of students anxiously waiting to order a meal from Hi Thai, the newest on-campus restaurant.

Arash Kesmirian/Guardian
A worker at Hi Thai prepares a fresh chicken sandwich. Hi Thai is open Sunday through Monday from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m.

Unlike many of the corporate chain restaurants located in Price Center, Hi Thai is a family-run business, owned by brothers Lucky and Sumeth Tilakumonkul.

“”I have seven other brothers and we all grew up in the restaurant business and came to the U.S. with student visas,”” Sumeth Tilakumonkul said. “”We came to California to open a restaurant, and we’ve been in the business for 32 years.””

In addition to their new restaurant in Student Center, the Tilakumonkul family also owns and runs a group of Southern California Royal Thai Cuisine restaurants in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, San Diego and La Jolla.

“”When we began our business, we were the first Thai restaurant in the area. We just wanted to introduce Thai food to other cultures,”” Sumeth Tilakumonkul said.

The Tilakumonkul family also provides others a chance to learn about the Thai culture through cooking lessons. Individuals can sign up for a one-time lesson at their Web site in order to learn more about cooking various Thai dishes.

“”The U.S. is like a melting pot,”” Sumeth Tilakumonkul said. “”We have everyone come here and so it is important to learn other cultures.””

While the variety offered at Hi Thai may not be as vast as that of their Royal Thai Cuisine restaurants, the Tilakumonkul family has made sure to maintain a colorful menu for their UCSD location. The restaurant offers spring rolls, fried dumplings, several noodle dishes, soups, salads and an array of drinks. And while the food is made a little faster than usual, it remains authentic to traditional Thai cuisine.

“”The recipes come from Mom and Dad,”” Sumeth Tilakumonkul said.

This unique dining option has already caught the attention of students around campus. John Muir College sophomore Yvonna Nguyen agrees that Hi Thai is a refreshing alternative to the dining halls on campus.

“”I’ve had better, but I would choose this food over Sierra Summit stir fry for sure,”” Nguyen said. “”And the tables are spacious, so it gives a more restaurant feeling than the dining halls do.””

Eleanor Roosevelt College senior Mindy Ly, a frequenter of the study lounge, is also optimistic that students will be attracted to the campus’s newest addition.

“”It’s good for college students looking for different options,”” Ly said. “”I think it’s better than other food on campus and there’s more of a variety here too.””

Judging from the surge of customers Hi Thai has received since its recent opening, Sumeth Tilakumonkul also has a positive outlook for the business.

“”I think we’re going to stay for a long time,”” Sumeth Tilakumonkul said.