Ex-Hawker Fare alumnus Chef Supasit Puttikaew and his wife, Nanchaphon Laptanachai, opened Funky Elephant in Berkeley in 2018 as a tiny storefront that quickly became extremely popular, earning itself a Michelin Guide entry in 2022. They wanted to expand and, lucky us, they did it right here in the Mission. Taking over the old Barzotto space near 24th Street, the eye-catching elephant mural at the entrance sets the tone for the playfulness of the menu, a playfulness that belies the depths of flavor reached by Chef Puttikaew with his proprietary spice blends and homemade chili jams.
On the first visit, the BF and I started out with crispy fried Hodo tofu.
Dusted with “funky” seasoning (green chai, black and white pepper, garlic and onion powder, although the BF swore he could taste cumin too), the tofu is fried and served with fresh dill, basil, cilantro and Thai red chilies, and comes with a sweet chili dipping sauce. While very flavorful, this was the only dish that failed to completely wow us, as the tofu was a bit tight, not quite as light and fluffy as I’d hoped.
Next, the yum kai dao (crispy egg salad):
PheNOMenal, with a smokey grilled prawn, fresh herbs, and TWO eggs, so I could share with the BF without resenting him, swimming in a marvelously sweet/sour/umami-rich nam pla. The eggs are fried in very hot oil, so that the edges form crackling lace, while maintaining the luscious, gooey yolk that becomes part of the dressing. I remember a similar version of this dish at Hawker Fare, and I obsessed about it for weeks afterward, trying to replicate it at home. Now I know where to find it again.
BF ordered the gang rawang beef.
Char-grilled ribeye rests in a pool of green curry sauce, light and lively with Thai basil, Thai chilies, turmeric and coconut milk. Alongside, hardy wild rocket (aka arugula) offered crunch and freshness. And the steak — so tender! Another winner. On the side, he ordered a bowl of this beauty:
The radiant hue comes from a natural source, the petals of the butterfly pea flower. The dish is native to Malaysia, although found in Thai and Indian cuisines as well. While the rice doesn’t taste much different than its white counterparts, it’s certainly a stunner.
My main was a pork noodle dish that was soupier than I’d imagined, with chunks of ground pork, noodles, alfalfa sprouts, peanuts and chilies in a steaming, spicy (but not nearly as fiery as the server had intimated), funky/sour broth. The textures! Simply gorgeous.
My sister accompanied me on my second visit and, as a confirmed non-chili-head, the only dish that really got to her were the party wings:
Just look at them; they’re practically prehistoric! Massive in size, they’re doused in house-made red curry and fish sauce and fried until crispy, bearing traces of crunchy pork skin and crumbled fermented pork. Seriously good, super-funky heat in every bite.
Next up were the makrut leaf Brussels sprouts.
Bathed in King sauce — a chili, ginger, curry paste (and I was sure I could taste tamarind) — the sprouts are fried until caramelized and a little charred, aromatic, and brimming over with tang and heat. Deliciously crisp/tender.
We shared the motherland curry with wild rock cod.
A lovely, light curry with vermicelli and cabbage, I loved all the fresh herbs, especially the dill, which is unexpected to me in Thai cooking, but apparently not uncommon.
And the star of the night:
Billed as O’s breakfast grilled pork, a generous cut of tender, char-grilled pork steak came topped with, I believe, toasted rice powder and another of those obscenely crispy fried eggs, sided by a spicy nam jim jaew (chili dipping sauce) slaw. An umami bomb, this superbly satisfying dish would make any breakfast a joy.
And although we were pretty full, we found it in us to go just a little further:
Hella Drunken mussels for “dessert.” Plump, wok-tossed PEI mussels, in another slightly spicy house-made chili jam, with Thai basil, garlic and Asian rice wine, ushered us out the door.
There are many more dishes I’ve just got to try: Kao mun gai (poached chicken with garlicky ginger rice), “Old School” pad thai, crispy rice salad (another dish I first tried at Hawker Fare), plus other soups and vegan/veggie dishes. For beverages, Funky Elephant serves Thai iced tea, sodas, beer and natural wines.
Every bite of every dish was a perfect blend of spice, funk, savory, sour, and sweet. Since Hawker Fare closed (and, let’s face it, it had sadly gone downhill in recent years) it’s wonderful to have Chef Puttikaew bring such dynamic, non-traditional Thai cooking back to the Mission.
1270 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110