Pongo’s Kitchen & Tap
701 Sonoma Mountain Pkwy C8
Since Pongo’s Kitchen & Tap opened seven years ago, it’s become well known locally for bringing the flavors of Thai to Petaluma. It’s a seven-time People’s Choice winner in the Petaluma Argus-Courier, and a popular neighborhood hangout. As soon as you step inside the front door, the intoxicating aromatics of Thai food will envelop you, and you know you’re in for a special experience.
Alex and I arrive on a Thursday evening at 6 o’clock and the restaurant is already humming with a festive, low-key vibe. A local artist plays a soft melody on his guitar, and Kathleen Stafford, partner and front-of-the-house maven, greets us with a smile when we arrive. A family-owned restaurant, Pongo’s is named for Pongo, chef and partner, who immigrated from Thailand to Marin County with his family when he was 14 years old. As a teenager, Pongo worked in food service and later opened a Thai restaurant with his family. Pongo’s offers both authentic and Thai-inspired cuisine. “A restaurant doesn't have to fit in a box,” says Pongo. “It can serve a collection of different types of foods and flavors.”
We begin with cocktails. Alex orders Sangria, the specialty of the evening, which was refreshing and served with a slice of lime. Always a fan of Thai iced tea, I ordered the adult version—the Tipsy Thai with Asian vodka and mango, which was the perfect start for the evening. We begin with the Thai nachos, which are a Thai-inspired creation of son Nick, and a customer favorite. Bursting with flavor and a good spicy Thai kick, this is a fun take on the usual nachos and served with an assortment of sauces and spice.
Pongo’s is truly a family business, and a modern one with three partners—Kathleen, Pongo and Lawrence. Kathleen and Pongo, once married, have three sons—Nick, Jesse and Tony, who are regularly on staff and lead the way for the Thai-inspired choices with an American twist. The third partner, Lawrence—and Kathleen’s husband—helps out with the business side of the restaurant. He’s also responsible for maintaining the terra cotta pots overflowing with flowers, providing a welcoming splash of color at the entrances.
The key word at Pongo’s is fresh. Every dish is made to order. For the main course, we shared two family-inspired entrees. We enjoyed Pongo’s special with prawns, which was served with a mound of stir-fried vegetables in a creamy yellow curry sauce. We also tried “Nick’s Special,” a pan-fried rice flat noodle with egg, bok choy, broccoli and carrot, topped with a peanut sauce. Sweet and savory, this is everything you want in a Thai dish, which is no doubt why it’s the top-ordered dish at Pongo’s. We couldn’t stop eating it. The portions at Pongo’s are generous, and there’s plenty to share.
Pongo’s is the great equalizer of restaurants for diners—a great place to stop in for a bite to eat at the bar or to get takeout. But it’s also perfect for a romantic, low-key dinner out. And don’t hesitate to bring the family and introduce your children to the flavors of Thai cuisine. There’s a good selection of choices on the children’s menu, but don’t be surprised if your kid prefers to nosh and nibble on your food like the young diner sitting at the table next to us.
For dessert, we share the coco sticky, which is a cool, creamy sweet confection made with ice cream and sweet sticky rice that was the perfect end to our meal. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, stop by Pongo’s Kitchen & Tap where you can celebrate fresh food with family and friends. Chances are the lovely maven of the house, Kathleen Stafford, will greet you at the front door with a warm welcoming smile. Says Stafford, “When people walk through the front door, it’s as though they’re coming into my home.”
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