Munch was admittedly skeptical when Thai Hana in Oakland opened last year. First, located on the bus lane side of busy Fifth Avenue meant there was no parking to be found. Set back from the street with waist-high rails, there's something unfortunately ominous about the location. Maybe, too, it was the girly branding that could lead one to think this is some kind of trendy boutique for tweens. And there was the fact that they advertised Thai food and sushi -- which is nearly as offensive as serving a Philly Cheesesteak and a Primanti's sandwich alongside each other.
But when all of Pittsburgh is covered with a thin film of grayish salt or brown slush illuminated by a cloud-choked sun, the bright interior of Thai Hana, despite the din of traffic outside, provided a little relief. And -- if you can find parking in one of Oakland's side streets -- or you're a hungry student on foot, the locale is not so much of an impediment.
Accompanying Munch were two hungry and busy (bungry?) dining companions: Megan Barrow and Julia Rendleman. They were patient while I took a work call and furiously sent emails on my phone. And so was the waiter, who came back several times while we gossiped and checked our phones. (So maybe this place has the effect of turning us into teenage girls, too).
We threw caution to the wind with some odd-looking sushi rolls: the sushi bomb ($12.95) and the black dragon roll ($12.95) from a menu that featured a frightening amount of mayonnaise. And they came in equally frightening, near-foot-long portions, the sushi lightly battered with tempura and deep-fried, the chimichanga of sushi. The black dragon roll came threaded through with deep-fried shrimp.
Both were admittedly scrumptious -- not in the same way you might enjoy a rich piece of tuna in a toro nigiri at Fukuda -- but the kind of way you sometimes enjoy the heck out of a McDonald's hamburger. It's hard to go terribly wrong with that much sticky starch, deep fried goodness and scrumptious shrimp.
Next up, main courses. Julia, the vegetarian, opted for the yellow curry with veggies ($11.95), sweet potatoes, carrots and peas swimming in a sauce sweetened with pineapple chunks. It was lovely and warming, less rich than I'm accustomed to. Megan ordered one of my favorite Thai dishes -- gai grapao ($12.95) -- stir-fried ground chicken with basil and carrots -- a little sweet and a little spicy. It came with a tiny tower of rice topped with a deep-fried egg.
And Munch, reeling from a head cold, opted for the Thai noodle soup ($9.95). It came in a gargantuan bowl with a mild broth that tasted authentically homemade, with a generous helping of noodles, chicken and shrimp. It was exactly the thing I needed to soothe a sore throat.
For the parking-phobic, lucky for you, Thai Hana also does a brisk takeout and delivery business.
Thai Hana is at 3608 Fifth Ave, Oakland; 412-621-1100; http://thaihana99.com/. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays- Fridays, noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays.