Keo’s Keeps It Classy
See more articles from Keo's Thai Cuisine
Upon entering Keo’s Thai Cuisine in Waikiki, one would immediately notice the restaurant’s casual, yet elegant atmosphere with a tropical garden ambiance. Customers will then acknowledge the bronze statues and stunning floral arrangements — comprising of orchids and other Hawaiian flowers and plants — that complement the pieces of artwork displayed throughout the restaurant. The decor ranges from Thai art to local pieces, including original paintings, embroidered tapestries and woodcarvings. The eatery’s atmosphere, coupled with its modern interpretation of classic Thai cuisine, contributes to its popularity among locals and tourists alike, according to owner Keo Sananikone.
Because of Keo’s convenient location — within walking distance of all major Waikiki hotels — the restaurant has served a variety of locals and celebrities for the past three decades. The eatery’s past patrons include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, as well as two princesses and former prime ministers of Thailand.
Keo’s Thai Cuisine has presented customers with a high caliber of classic Thai cuisine since 1977. Sananikone’s restaurant has won numerous awards, including “The People’s Choice” by Honolulu magazine and “America’s Best Thai” by Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines.
“We’ve been in business for 35 years,” Sananikone says. “It is the biggest and oldest Thai restaurant in Hawaii.”
Keo’s Thai Cuisine originated from Sananikone’s desire to open a restaurant serving authentic Thai food. He remembers attending high school and college on the Mainland and not being able to find many Thai restaurants. When Sananikone came to Hawaii in 1975, he decided to open a restaurant serving Thai food, prepared with authentic spices and ingredients.
For those who have never experienced Thai food before, Sananikone says his restaurant serves as a good introduction to the cuisine.
“We can please almost everybody, from vegetarians to children with limited taste palates,” he says. “Our food is cooked to order — it can be really spicy or very mild.”
The Evil Jungle Prince ($12.95-16.95) reigns as the eatery’s signature dish. This original recipe — available with seafood, chicken or vegetables and tofu — is the restaurant’s most famous dish, combining coconut milk, red chili and fresh basil, served on a bed of chopped cabbage.
“We call it ‘evil’ because it’s hot; ‘jungle’ because the herb — sweet basil — usually grows by itself in a natural setting in Asia (like the jungle), and ‘prince’ because it’s a dish fit for a prince,” Sananikone says.
Other popular dishes include the Fresh Summer Rolls ($8.95) — a mild combination of steamed chicken, shrimp, rice noodles, mint, parsley, carrots, cucumber and fresh spices rolled in fresh rice paper — and the Sa-Teh Chicken ($9.95), spicy peanut Sa-Teh sauce served over chicken on a bed of chopped cabbage. The restaurant also is famous for its variety of curries.
Besides its original recipes, Keo’s Thai Cuisine is unique because of its authentic ingredients and spices. Many of these spices are grown locally on the restaurant’s farm, along with Thai fruit trees, vegetables, flowers and herbs.
“We have our own farm,” Sananikone says. “Most of our spices and herbs are grown organically on our own farm in Mokuleia. Our curries are made from scratch.”
Although Keo’s Thai Cuisine only opens for dinner, Sananikone mentions its sister restaurant — Keoni by Keo’s — is located on the same street, and opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sananikone recommends that customers seeking Thai food for lunch visit Keoni by Keo’s, which opened in 1998 and is located at 2375 Kuhio Ave. The eatery serves both Thai and American food. Keoni by Keo’s is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Keo’s Thai Cuisine
- 2028 Kuhio Avenue
- Honolulu, HI 96815
- (808) 951-9355
- 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
- Open daily