When Sab-E-Lee first opened back in 2008 in a tiny space on Ulric Street it was a revelation, introducing San Diegans to the wonders of authentically and thrillingly spicy Thai cuisine from the country’s northeastern Isaan region. By 2015, the restaurant had outgrown its footprint and moved into a larger location nearby; now called The Original Sab-E-Lee, it also has an outpost in Rancho Penasquitos.
Its former spot was subsequently rebranded as Thai Papaya by Sab-E-Lee, and found similar success offering its own distinct lineup of dishes, from fiery salads to noodle soups. Thai Papaya stayed shuttered for most of the pandemic, and to the distress of its many fans, has now closed for good, at least in that space. The Mmm-yoso blog reports that it’s being replaced by a sushi bar.
There is a small glimmer of hope for its return, as owner Don Runowski told Eater that he may reopen Thai Papaya in another location, although like many restaurants he says they are struggling to hire enough staff. In the meantime, a few select dishes from Thai Papaya are now being served at The Original Sab-E-Lee’s Linda Vista location including its popular khao soi, a coconut curry noodle soup. Runowski says they could add even more specialty items to the permanent menu if there is enough demand from customers.