The Cuisine Scene
Brenda Hill

Papaya Bay Thai Cuisine
Yucaipa, CA

Since moving to California and the Yucaipa area, I’ve explored all the restaurants in the neighborhood.

Or so I thought.

Tucked in the northeast corner of the Tower Center on County Line Road, an amazing restaurant, Papaya Bay, has been serving fresh, authentic Thai food for about three years.

I had no idea. I’d seen the sign, but thought it was similar to a fast food place.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Inside the nondescript storefront, another world exists, one of beauty and serenity. When Sheila and I visited, the owners had decorated for Christmas and potted red poinsettias stood in colorful contrast to the carved woodwork. Water cascaded down a three-tiered petal waterfall. An intricately-carved wood table stood near the entrance, and inside the main seating room, painted tablecloths graced the tables.

The owners, Wanlop and Chontichar Rungsawang, also known as Eddie and Poo to those who, like me, have difficulty pronouncing their names, greeted Sheila and me and made us feel special.

(L-R: Eddie, his daughter Chanida, Poo, and their server, Joy)
Since taking over the restaurant over a year ago from his sister who also owns Papaya Bay in Redlands, Eddie and Poo have worked to present authentic Thai food with slight American touches. Quality is of prime importance, and they prepare all their dishes with fresh vegetables and herbs and pride themselves on providing health-conscious food with less oil.

Since I’d never tasted Thai food, I relied on Eddie and Poo to select dishes for Sheila and me. The first thing Poo suggested was Thai iced tea, and when it arrived, the colorful tea looked like a rare exotic drink. Served in a tall glass with ice, the orangey color in the bottom faded into a soft yellow with white topping. Slightly sweet and creamy with coconut cream and a special Thai tea, it was so good it could be a dessert drink.

Then the Tom Kah Gai, a soup dish Poo suggested, arrived. Although I’m not usually impressed with presentation, the amber-colored soup in a hot pot with a flame flaring up several inches above the middle chimney looked so picturesque that I almost hated to serve our helpings. But of course I did, and Sheila and I had a generous serving in our lotus-shaped bowls. Made with chicken, coconut milk, mushrooms, lemon juice and other ingredients, the soup tasted creamy, tangy, and spicy at the same time.

Next, Eddie suggested two appetizers, Satay and the Appetizer Platter. Satay is either chicken or tofu on skewers, grilled in coconut milk and Thai herbs, served with two sauces, peanut and cucumber. We chose the chicken, and Eddie demonstrated by cutting a piece of the chicken and spooning on a dab of each sauce. I wouldn’t have thought that peanuts and cucumbers would go together, but the flavor combination was unique and delicious.

The Appetizer Platter alone was worth another trip. Shrimp tempura, spring rolls, fried calamari, vegetable tempura, and Papaya Bay’s special Money Bags. Some of the tempura vegetables were zucchini, broccoli, and I think I even bit into a baby corncob. The onion rings were tender and all of the pieces were crispy without an excess of grease. But the stars of the evening were the Money Bags, small pastries in bag shapes filled with minced chicken, corn, crushed peanuts and spices. The tops were tied with another long, green spice. The gathered tops were crunchy, similar in taste, I thought, to a wonton.

Then Eddie brought several more platters, all beautifully arranged and artistically presented with fruit and vegetables. Sheila and I tried Coco Salmon, a filet cooked with spicy coconut sauce and vegetables:

Garlic Shrimp, sautéed shrimp in garlic pepper sauce with fried onions, bell peppers and cucumber slices:

Orange Chicken, glazed chicken pieces with real orange juice, and Pineapple Fried Rice.

Over the years I thought I’d tasted every fried rice available. But Pineapple? Nevertheless, I trusted Eddie, so I tried the rice. Shrimp and chicken stir-fried with eggs, curry powder, cashew nuts, raisins and pineapple. What a combination, and what a delicious, different flavor.

By that time, all Sheila and I could do was taste each dish, decide our favorites for our next trip, and thank Eddie and Poo for their wonderful hospitality.

“But you must have dessert,” Eddie said, and promptly served Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango. Oh, I didn’t think I could take another bite, but the mango slices arranged in a pinwheel looked so good that I had to try them. The light, chilled coolness was perfect after the spicy food.

It’s hard to believe that such a wonderful place is located in a neighborhood mini-mall, but I’m so glad it is. Sheila and I are already planning our next trip. Not only is the food fresh and delicious and the owners and staff courteous and helpful, but the prices are reasonable.

Their appetizers range from $5.95 for the Spring Rolls, Vegetable Tempura, and more, to $6.95 for the Satay and Money Bags. The Appetizer Platter is $9.95 and I plan to have it again.

Nine different soups are offered, $4.95 a bowl or $11.95 for the hot pot. If you haven’t ordered the hot pot at least once, you should try it for the experience.

Salads are $7.95 for the Papaya, or Som Tum, of shredded green papaya with peanut, tomato and lemon juice, to $10.95 for their Siam with shrimp, chicken and green apple, coconut and Thai spices.

Main courses include poultry, beef, pork, lamb, and seafood. They have so many, some with familiar names such as Orange Chicken for $8.95, to exotic seafood choices such as Kang Kour Shrimp, curry cooked in coconut milk with shrimp, ginger, potatoes, pineapple and cinnamon for $11.95.

Noodles with tofu, chicken, beef, pork, or seafood is offered as well as several varieties of fried rice. About twelve vegetarian dishes are on the menu, all ranging around $8.95.

Desserts include some old favorites such as an Ice Cream Sundae, but they also have Fried Banana with Ice Cream, and Rambutan Stuffed with Pineapple, a Thai fruit in syrup over ice for $3.00.

Their lunch specials are served Monday thru Friday 11am to 3pm for $6.95. Served with soup and salad and steamed rice, they include Thai BBQ chicken, Chow Mein, Garlic Pepper, as well as several Thai favorites. 

According to their menu, they also do catering and take out.

Wonderful food, gracious hosts, good ambiance, and reasonable prices. What a fantastic discovery. 

Papaya Bay is also located in Redlands, Banning, and they’re expanding even further. Watch for the locations.
UPDATE: new name, Chanida, same wonderful owners
Open 7 Days, except for Christmas
Monday-Saturday 11am to 9pm
Sunday 12pm to 9pm

Papaya Bay Thai Cuisine
34664 County Line Road
Ste 15-16
Yucaipa, CA  92399