Santa Barbara > Restaurants > Zen Yai
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Zen Yai
425 State St, Santa Barbara
Phone: (805) 957-1193

  • Category: Thai
  • Hours: Lunch: Tue-Fri 11:30am-2:15pm, Dinner: Sun-Thu 5:30pm-8:45pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-9:245pm,
  • Price: $10 - $20
  • Serving: Lunch & Dinner
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Reviews by the General Public

New owners, real disappointment!, 11/16/2018
Reviewer: Shelley from Santa Barbara, CA
Been eating happily at Zen Yai for 20 years, maybe more. Changed ownership sometime around summer 2018, and quality has hit the skids. Pad Thai mushy, clearly not freshly made. Stir-fry similar, seemed like it was cooked hours earlier. Won't be going back.

Good Thai food
Reviewer: Andy from Santa Barbara, CA
My favorite Thai restaurant in Santa Barbara. The creative well prepared dishes and small restaurant feel with a friendly staff make it fun to eat here.

not open until 920
Reviewer: skye from Santa Barbara, CA
went there last night rite at 9 going off of the RG site time of 920 and we were turned away, i mentioned the web review time and the seemed as if the had no idea what i was saying, ended up eating indian instead. like your site mate just a heads up on the typo - S

The Bomb!
Reviewer: Zev from Santa Barbara, CA
This Is The Best Asian Restaurant In Santa Barbara. I Have Been To Thailand And Most Of The Food Here Is Even Better! Service Is Great To. This Restaurant Is Very Addicting WIth High Quality Fresh Ingredients Used In Their Excellent Authentic Thai Dishes!

Good Thai food
Reviewer: Greg from Grand Junction, CO
Liked the chicken satay and the Massaman curry was very good with plenty of chicken. I thought the service was above average and the owner (I think) came by to inquire how things were. We did think it was a bit pricey but the location is on the main tourist drag in SB so we should't have been too surprised by this. Bottom line: The food will satisfy as will the service. Just be prepared to pay a premium.

Mixed Bag
Reviewer: Pauly D from Santa Barbara, CA
I had lunch there a few weeks ago and the Panang Curry was delicious as was the Pad Thai Noodles. It was a good experience. Then I ate there last night and it was like the chef was completely different. The Panang was awful. The green beans shouldn't be that crispy and hard to chew. The flavor was decent but the brown rice was overcooked and the chicken was tasteless/bland. Service was good, but food was awful... at least compared to the lunch a few weeks back.

Soooooo Goood!
Reviewer: Whitney from Santa Barbara, CA
Very very yummy food! Gotta try the pumpkin curry. Even if you think you don't like Thai food, Zen Yai will win you over. Great place for an intimate dinner with 2-4 people. Too small for any bigger group than that. Reasonable prices.

Amazing Spices, Nice People
Reviewer: Glenn from Buellton
I agree with the last review regarding the tastes, the pad thai aftertaste has stayed with me the whole day telling me to go back for more! Never had anything like it before, was it orange peel shaving they put in it? Something sweet, I can't place it even after having taken Thai cooking classes and being able to make my own Pad Thai. If you are after taste go here. Their menus items are interesting. Definitely go with reservations on a weekend, fairly small place(seating for 20 maybe?). Or go on a weekday. Definitely an argument for best Thai in town, torn between here and Meun Fan but this place is calling to me to come back and try more. The owner(?)/hostess was really nice. The Blue Owl is under different management and leases the place at night but they do have some Thai themed items on the menu.

Flavor is out of this world!!
Reviewer: Ryan I. from Santa Barbara, CA
I've been to many local Thai restaurants and the menu selection and flavors are out of this world at Zen Yai. Their flavoring stays consistant and I've never been let down on my dishes. I do perfer to get my meals togo because service is slow, especially when your in need of a refill. Besides that, my mouth always waters for Zen Yai!!!

a diamond in a rhinestone world
Reviewer: rob from carlsbad, ca
I have a friend, let's call him Joe, who makes a point of visiting Thai restaurants wherever he travels. He's been all over the globe, and he considers this the best Thai food place on earth. I have to concur. It's psycho good. Yes, it's possible to visit them on an "off night" (apparently there's a genius chef who occasionally takes a day off), but 9 times out of 10 your taste buds will be having an orgasm. I personally recommend the coconut soup, the pumpkin curry, and the appropriately-named appetizer known as "the golden basket". Not to be missed.

Good food, bad waiter
Reviewer: Susan from Los Angeles, CA
The food tastes good, though the portions are smaller than most Thai restaurants. Although the servers never ask how spicy the curries should be, they should. My friend could not handle the spiciness of the green curry dish, which was a pity. I recommend their pumpkin curry, green curry, and shrimp & scallops curry. The cute, colorful decor makes the small restaurant cozy. The waitresses are all courteous, but avoid the acerbic waiter! Despite there being many empty tables on a Tuesday night, he demanded to know if we had a reservation (we didn't). When we asked if we needed one, he said he wasn't sure and asked the hostess, who said it was fine. Then he wouldn't let us sit at a table near the wall, saying that it was a 3-person table, until the hostess said we could. He never asked us whether we wanted rice but later was carrying a dish of white rice. When I tried to order rice saying that we hadn't ordered rice but wanted to, he cut me off saying the white rice was free with the curry. Even though we prefer brown rice, we kept the white. When we tried to order more brown rice for our second dish, he angrily asked us, "First you don't want rice, now you want another? . . ." I had to calm him down by saying that we had forgotten to order rice initially but we had planned to order rice. Before getting this waiter (the rudest waiter I've ever seen), I used to eat here quite often (three times in the last two weeks). Now I don't plan on eating here for a while, even though I like their food.

Bygone Quality, Current Calamity
Reviewer: Andy Patterson from Santa Barbara, CA
Zen Yai used to convey exquisite, unique, and authentic Thai food, with attentive service to boot. Now, it seems, they do not. My wife and I were seated on a moderately busy evening, and then waited for twenty to thirty minutes before we even received water, for which we had to repeatedly nag the waitress. Then we didn't get our food for another thirty minutes while we watched several subsequent parties (all of whom arrived after us) begin dining. Okay, the food will make up for it, we thought. This must be an off-night for the staff, we thought. My hopes were dashed against the big picture of John Lennon (portraying him in his meek, Eastern-inspired days). Our dishes tasted exceedingly mediocre, which in the canon of culinary iniquities is worse than tasting bad. The Pad Thai was dry and merely adequate. The Garlic Pepper stir fry was downright tasteless, and the meat overcooked. The staff, while not very attentive, was at least kind and apologetic, which always goes a long way, even if the food doesn't. I like going out to eat so that I can purchase food that vaunts better preparation and taste than I can muster in my own kitchen. Yes, my experience COULD be an anomaly, but while I waited (and waited) for service, I observed other tables and what they ordered. All the dishes were meager, flat-looking, and uninspiring. I hope I'm wrong about this place. Some of my best Thai food experiences were once had here.

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