Thai Basil promises good flavor, service

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Tourists running late after a day in the big trees of Sequoia National Park will call Thai Basil from the road, asking if the restaurant would stay open an extra hour so they can get a bite to eat.

Co-owners Bob and Mollie Silakone usually say “yes,” especially if the prospective customers used Internet rating sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp to find Thai Basil. Many of these travelers might not be this way again, so the Visalia couple want visitors to have enjoyable memories of the food.

Folks from Europe and Australia have started or ended their trips to the park at Thai Basil, a short hop from Highway 198 in the Mary’s Vineyard shopping center. The Silakones have a unique connection with their international clients since they, too, are from another place.

The Silakones moved to the United States from Laos. Like many of their countrymen, they fled to Thailand after the Vietnam war and spent 16 months in a refugee camp, followed by six months in the Philippines to learn the English language and American culture.

They moved to California in 1986, and Bob took a job with the Visalia Unified School District. He became the lead custodian, a post he held until his retirement four years ago. Meanwhile, Mollie cooked at a delicatessen in Porterville and clung to dreams of owning her own restaurant.

“I love to cook and making customers happy,” Mollie said, as she paused to explain that those aspirations had to be put aside one day when an accident happened and it was feared that she would lose her eyesight. Recovery took almost six years, but Mollie was eventually well enough to return to work and became the cook at Thai Basil under a previous owner. The long-postponed dream became reality three years ago when that owner decided to sell to Mollie and Bob.

Mollie cooks just about all of the food while Bob handles serving, cleanup and other chores. They have four principles by which they run the restaurant: the customer is always first, good flavor, good service and good sanitation.

Your server will ask you how hot you’d like your food on a scale of 1 to 10, from mild (1) to hot (10). If you don’t want soy sauce, fish sauce or basil, just say so when you order. There’s also a page on the menu with dishes for vegetarians.

By far the biggest-seller is pad Thai, which is rice noodles stir-fried with eggs and green onions, bean sprouts and ground peanuts, with choice of chicken, pork, beef, tofu or vegetables. You can have this for $7.95 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pad Thai with shrimp is also available. The second most-popular item is pineapple fried rice, made with stir-fried rice, shrimp, chicken, pineapple chunks, cashews, egg, onion and a touch of curry for $10.95.

With seating for 34, the place fills up on Friday and Saturday nights, so reservations are recommended. Thai Basil doesn’t cater, but with three days’ notice it can prepare a party tray for 20-25 people for the customer to pick up.



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