Asked what sets his eight-month-old Thai restaurant at 4965 Cass St. apart, Jim Brewster, the eatery’s owner, replied: “Better recipes. Very authentic taste. Traditional Thai.”
And that’s exactly what you’ll find on Hot or Not’s lunch and dinner menus, which feature an array of curries, noodle dishes, rice and rice sides, salads and entrees served with steamed rice like kra prao, ginger and cashew chicken, mixed vegetables ad shrimp with asparagus.
Brewster proudly notes that his restaurant often draws comments like, “Best Thai food I’ve ever had,” in online reviews. He added another secret to his success is freshening up his tasty Thai recipes by adding new and unusual menu options. He gave an example.
“One of my partners wanted to add seafood,”said Brewster to which he suggested, ‘How about salmon?’ But they don’t have salmon, a freshwater fish, in Thailand,” replied his business partner.
“So I said,’How about kra prao salmon?’ And his eyes lit up and he said, ‘Yeah, that would work.’”
And that set a new standard for Hot or Not in “maybe putting some [menu items] in there, that would ordinarily not be in there,” said Brewster.
That willingness to experiment blending traditional and non-traditional ingredients is reflected in such dishes as choo chee prawns, Thai baby back ribs and crying tiger steak.
Brewster previously owned a Thai restaurant for a decade in the Long Beach area, adding he came to San Diego because he liked the area and “wanted to do something more coastal. We really wanted something closer to the coast.”
The retail space inhabited by Hot or Not was formerly a juice bar serving the gym next door, which is now PB Fitness.
There is only one dessert on the Hot or Not menu, and it’s a crowd-pleaser: mango with homemade sweet sticky rice. Brewster said much of the food he serves is gluten-free. Beverages served, which include Thai iced tea and coffee, hibiscus and hot jasmine, ginger or green tea, also have a tropical flair.
Brewster said his cook, JJ Derngjabok, a Thai native, come from a part of that country known for its flavorful food.
Hot or Not prides itself on customizing its dishes. “It’s not coming out of warmer already made, we make it from scratch,” said Brewster.
The eatery has seating inside and out. Customers may also order online at Hot or Not, and take out and deliveries are done through Grubhub.
“We do a surprisingly high volume of take out,” noted Brewster. “Sometimes we’ll fill up the dining room, but even when we do, there are take out deliveries on top of that.”
Asked if he liked being a restaurateur, Brewster replied, “It’s great, never a dull moment. I like very much interacting with the diners.”
Hot or Not Thai
4965 Cass St.