After just having learned of this 5th avenue location and its recent opening (6 weeks at time of visit) I was excited to make my debut to another downtown Gaslamp venue of which I do not often hit up frequently due to parking issues. This occasion, however, was a none parking issue as I made it for a mid-day 2ish lunch stop to kick off my Friday and my weekend.
At the corner of 5th and Island this place is hard to miss. A big old Monkey King mural printed along the Island Ave side of the building is easy to spot. A shot of the mural with the owner Matt and myself.
The interior is spacious and open. The front side wall/windows have natural light pouring in from 5th ave. A long bar area for folks to grab sips and drinks while watching the game on any of the multiple televisions they have up. If I recall right, Matt Nosse, the owner, says they have a custom built, 38 steel panel, floor to ceiling, LED backlit TV coming in very soon as well. It will display patterns of migrating butterflies along the back wall. From what I got a glimpse of, this will be unlike anything anyone else has in downtown!
Outdoor seating is available along 5th ave and Island Ave for about 20-25 seats for those looking to catch the bustle of the Gaslamp during their meal. Views from outside seating...
The menu is diverse and authentic in its representation of both Thai and Japanese cusines. Not a fusion as I found it but rather a blend of both styles in traditional form. My picks for this visit was the traditional pho bowl of rare steak and noodles plus fixings. I also got the Tom Kah Soup bowl. Lunch is served 11-3, dinner 5-11 with HH specials and small plates from 3-5.
Both my items were spot on delicious! Robust flavor, nothing fancy or over doctored, simple foods prepared well and served correctly.
Matt, his lead bartender/manager Garret, and one of their servers, Ulyssess were all super kind and very friendly. They like what they do and seem proud to be part of it.
Monkey King has something different going for it then I have found anywhere else in Gaslamp. A place for the more mature adult crowd to escape the club scene and yet still find a mellow, laid back lounge with an upscale, casual vibe, great drinks, and good food, Perfect for the solo diner wanting to grab a happy hour drink after work, the guy or gal who wants to catch the game and a bite at the bar or even small groups who want to get a good meal before heading out for a night on the town. All will be pleased with what they find at Monkey King.
History Lesson: The name of this 150-year-old building comes from its origins when Gaslamp used to be the primary Chinatown area of the area. A secret gambling/lottery hall survived for many years in the open basement under what is now the restaurant. Until its discovery and shut down by local police raids, it was known in secret as "The Monkey King" The picture on the hostess stand when you enter shows the building as it was in the early 60's as The Nanking Cafe.