This past weekend, a group of my friends and I decided to take a trip down to Wat Mongkolratanaram or the Berkeley Thai Temple for brunch. If you're in the Berkeley area on a Sunday morning, especially if you are a resident here (read: student), then this definitely should be on your Berkeley Bucket List. Berkeley has its fair share of Thai restaurants, most of which are great, but there's something different about eating at Wat Mongkolratanaram.
Upon arriving, you'll probably be a bit confused. "Is this a temple or a house?" It seems to be a house turned temple, or something like that. The next thing you'll see are the crowds, and in front of them, the main food lines - one for vegetarian and one for non-vegetarian food. But wait, don't get in line just yet (unless you have leftover tokens from last time, don't worry, I'm about to get to that).
Insider Tip: Get there early. They start serving food at 10 am. You'll beat the crowds and make sure that you get what you want. If you get there late, there's a chance they will run out of certain items, like Pad Thai.
You don't pay with cash here. Instead, you have to go over to the left and exchange your cash for tokens. The exchange rate is $1 for 1 token. Just hand them a $20 bill and they'll give you a cup of 20 tokens. This will ensure the fastest, most efficient exchange for you and everyone else in line. But wait, you may ask, "What am I going to do with 20 tokens!?" It's okay. One, you could exchange them back for cash at the same rate. Two, you'll be back and can use the tokens then.
Once you get your tokens, you have options. You can get your main entrees (remember, the vegetarian and non-vegetarian lines), beef noodle soup, drinks, or dessert. I went straight for the non-vegetarian line. At both of the entree lines, you get a plate of rice and your choice of 1, 2, or 3 entrees. The prices are 6, 7, and 8 tokens respectively. I got Pad Thai and Cashew Chicken with rice and made a beeline for the condiments. I highly recommend the sambal, load up on it before it runs out. Pictured above is my friend's plate of Cashew Chicken and Red Curry.
Insider Tip: Bring your own Tupperware (or comparable food container)! It is generally accepted that you get more food this way and you can pack your leftovers easily (if you have any).
After getting either your entree or beef noodle soup (6 tokens), don't forget to get a drink. Their Thai Iced Tea is excellent! It's cold, refreshing, and not too sweet. I'm sure their Thai Iced Coffee is good too, but I didn't get to try it. Both the tea and coffee are 2 tokens each.
Now that you finally got your food, you're going to have to find a table. If you find one, great. If not, get there earlier next time. The next step is simple, enjoy your food!
The Pad Thai was everything Pad Thai should be: sweet, sour, and salty. It wasn't like some bad Pad Thais I've had. You know, the ones that taste like straight ketchup? If you've had your share of Thai food, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. The Cashew Chicken had a lot going on. There's juicy chicken, fresh vegetables, and crunchy cashews. The flavors and textures worked really well together and the sambal just took it over the top. The Cashew Chicken is also a "safe" dish if you're not the adventurous type.
I tried a bit of the Beef Noodle Soup with the fat, flat noodles. I wasn't a huge fan of it, to be honest. The broth was surprisingly sweet, which was the main turn off for me. The beef was tender and flavorful and the noodles had a good bite to them. If the broth was more savory, it would have been a winner in my book. Maybe some sambal and pickled jalapenos would have solved the problem for me.
Some of my friends got the Mango Sticky Rice (5 tokens). The dish is made up of fresh mango slices and pudding that rest on a bed of sticky white and black rice. I can't comment on this dessert because I didn't get a chance to try it, but my friends seemed to enjoy it.
After your meal, take a stroll through their garden. It's not too big or amazing, but it provides a peaceful escape from the crowds and noise.
So, how was it? Let's just say, a friend of mine saw workers from an unnamed, well-known Thai restaurant eating here. If it's good enough for them, it's probably good enough for you. I'd definitely recommend all of you to go if you are in the area on a Sunday morning.
Wat Mongkolratanaram 1911 Russell St Berkeley, CA 94703 (510) 849-3419