This Michelin-star Trained Chef Brings California-style Thai Food to Oakland

Updated: Nov 04, 2022 07:52
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I just want to earn enough money to stay in The Bay Area and eat oysters and mango sticky rice from Jo’s Modern Thai on a daily basis. Maybe switching it up and eating all the other yummy dishes on the menu to get the rest of my vitamins in.

Their contemporary-yet-tropical casual decor is eye-catching and in a surprising twist, their burger has been written up multiple times as one of the best in The East Bay. Jo’s Modern Thai’s has dishes that will surprise you (like Drunken Noodles made with wheat-filled ramen) while also bringing you classic thai flavors, herbs and spices you’ll crave. Their unique take on Thai food comes from the restaurant’s talented Michelin star trained chef, Intu-on Kornnawong.

The interior of Jo’s Modern Thai is laid back, modern and tropical – photo from interior design company Roy Hospitality Design

Located in Oakland’s Laurel District, Jo’s Modern Thai started serving their delicious Thai cuisine in 2021. Jo’s is the brainchild of former Chef Intu-on, former sous chef at San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Kin Khao, and Kao Saelee, who helped run his family’s restaurant Racha Cafe in Berkeley and grew up in The East Bay (he even went to high school in The Laurel District).

Both Intu-on and Saelee were delighted to find the restaurant space tucked into a mostly locals-only neighborhood. For Intu-on, they knew that having a restaurant in Oakland meant you were supported by the community through and through. 

Jo’s Modern Thai’s burger has been voted one of the best burgers in The Bay – Isaan style fried pork laab patty, lettuce, cucumber, herbs, shallot, laab dressing, makrut lime mayo, brioche bun

Meet Chef Intu-on Kornnawong

One bonus about a communal table is you’ll never know who you’ll meet. This is how I was able to meet the pocket-sized dynamo, Chef Intu-on. During Oakland’s Indie Chef’s event last month, I sat across from a few chefs and got to know each of them while we feasted. With a smile that matched their sweet disposition, Chef Intu-on sat across from me. After a few hours together, we made a pact to talk soon.

Chef Intu-on Kornnawong

“I came from the small town of Udon Thani in the Isaan region of Thailand. I started by culinary journey at a young age, helping my family cook meals for the house, and learning Thai dishes from my parents and aunties. When I was old enough, I  moved to San Francisco to attend the International Culinary Center (Formerly French Culinary Institute). After graduating I went directly into working at some Michelin-starred Californian cuisine restaurants in San Francisco including The Range and Outerlands.

After a while, I decided to move to Los Angeles where I began to work for Jeremy Fox at Rustic Canyon. It was then that I learned about the importance of working with local produce and respecting them with great technique. In 2017 I was offered to run chef Kris Yenbamroong’s iconic Night + Market restaurants (all 3 locations), and together we helped take Thai food to new levels of fame and excitement in the city.

After my Southern California tenure, I came back to SF,  met Chef Pim Techamuanvivit and became Executive Sous Chef of the Michelin-starred Kin Khao. During the pandemic, I finally stepped out on my own with a Thai drinking snack pop-up called Intu-on at Birba Wine Bar in Hayes Valley, San Francisco.”

As the story goes, in 2021, Intu-on realized her dreams of having her own restaurant and now runs Jo’s Modern Thai in Oakland, Intu’s homage to her family’s recipes and all she’s learned in California. Chef Intu is the real deal and Oakland is lucky to have such a talented Chef. She has been met with glowing praise from the Michelin Guide and Food critic from SF Chronicle.

Best items on the menu at Jo’s Modern Thai

With items that are Intu-on’s own twist on American classics, the menu is fun to explore family style so that everyone gets to try something they are interested in. Dishes are moderately priced and a bargain for the quality of each dish.

Coconut Pancake – Kanom Krok- Coconut Cake, delicate squash, green onion, flying fish roe (tobiko)

You’ll see what we know to be classic Thai dishes such as Pad Thai but Jo’s version has lobster in it which elevates the dish to a whole new savory level. New dishes will come and go on the menu depending on the season. Chef Intu-on Kornnawong tells me that crab season will bring something special in the coming weeks and they are excited to reveal it on the menu.

“To me, the most exciting dish coming up is Dungeness crab two ways – crab curry and crab fried rice. There will be a new whole fish dish (fall is almost over, fried rockfish will be off the menu). We will be doing grilled branzino instead with lots of fall and winter ingredients.

We will also be playing around with whichever vegetables are in season as Coconut cake will be topped with squash instead of corn, our papaya salad will not be coming with grapes, apple and pear instead of berry,” Intu-on tells me. 

Detail shot of the Squid Salad at Jo’s Modern Thai using squid from Monterey

Intu-on’s menu at Jo’s highlights their hometown in Thailand but also brings in their time in California. While some dishes are very clearly influenced by American culture (like the burger), you’ll find some dishes that bring back childhood memories for the chef.

Squid salad is the one from my hometown and dad’s favorite dish. It’s called Laab. Laab is a type of Isaan meat salad that is the national dish of Isaan or Laos. But for Jo’s we are cooking with squid (from Monterey). That’s what our concept is, using local and sustainable while matching our tropical concept and it’s delicious.”

The Laab at Jo’s is a flavor bomb. Bright herbs such as mint and lemon grass bring in bright and floral flavors which marry beautifully with the fresh Monterey squid.

Squid Salad – Monterey squid, allium, herbs, toasted rice powder, chili powder, laab vinaigrette, sesame shrimp cracker

My favorite dish has to be the Drunken Noodles. For this dish, Intu-on partnered with local BBQ legends, Smokin Woods BBQ. Intu uses its brisket in this flavorful dish along with classic ramen noodles. The brisket is perfectly cooked and brings a savory smokiness to the dish. Overall, the dish is comforting, flavorful, spicy, and delicious. It’s also a great example of how Intu-on is able to combine flavors from Thailand with local ingredients; creating something that is unique and highlights Intu-on’s point of view as a chef.

“Drunken Noodles” from Jo’s Modern Thai – Pad Kee Mao – wok stir fried ramen noodle, Smoking Woods BBQ brisket, Thai holy basil, garlic, yellow onion, bell pepper, young green peppercorn

Where to find Jo’s Modern Thai & Chef Intu-on Kornnawong online:

Facebook: Jo’s Modern Thai
IG: @_intu_on_, @josoakland

Hidden in the backyard is a gorgeous outdoor patio at Jo’s Modern Thai

Note: all images are owned by Jo’s Modern Thai unless otherwise noted. 

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy has lived in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.