Amid the ever-changing buzz of Santa Barbara’s culinary scene, Your Choice is thriving in its 32nd year as a bustling Thai restaurant on upper State Street. Founded in 1989 by husband and wife Aungkoon and Sukanya Sukavivatanachai in what had previously been a Mexican restaurant called Maya — and before that, Carl’s Steakhouse — the family stuck to the location’s minimalistic and cozy design in order to focus on something more important: their food.
Currently in charge is Piti Sukavivatanachai, who left his potential medical career in 2012 to focus on the restaurant with his wife, Kathy Dao. What started with “helping out” his family quickly transformed into inheriting the restaurant. After condensing the menu, he started innovating their ice cream selections, which were originally developed by his late mother, Sukanya, who died in August 2017.
With memories of helping her make ice cream from scratch, Piti’s research and experimentation led to creative options that transcended his mother’s Classic Coconut. “Her recipe laid the foundation for all the other flavors,” he said, explaining that expanding the menu took time, testing, and tasting with his ice cream maker. The results are now sold under a brand of Thai-inspired flavors called Creaminal.
Your Ice Cream Choices
Your Choice’s Creaminal ice cream costs $4 for a scoop and $9 for a pint. Here are five favorites.
Thai Tea Oreo: This most popular flavor represents the history and authenticity of Your Choice. With a bold Thai tea base that is surprisingly strong with crunchy bits of Oreo blended in, Piti explained, “The trial and error has paid off.” He’s most proud of how prominent the Thai tea is compared to the subtle flavor in commercially available versions. Providing a crunchy break from sweet cream tea, the Oreos make this Piti’s idea of cookies ’n’ cream.
Vietnamese Coffee Mud Pie: Vietnamese coffee is a cohesive combo of bitter and sweet, which is what Piti attempts here, starting with a strong, dark base that’s bitter at first but then cut with sweet Oreos and chocolate chips. The condensed milk stays true to a traditional Vietnamese coffee, creating a smooth transition between bitter and sweet.
Classic Coconut: This vegan option, according to Piti, is the one that “started them all.” The coconut-milk base mimics the creamy texture of a dairy base, though Piti admits this factor is the most challenging to perfect. But with his mother’s foundation and his own experimentation, this is the most nostalgic and traditional flavor at Your Choice.
Basil Mint Chip: This rendition of traditional mint-chip ice cream uses a milk base infused with fresh mint leaves, and that raw flavor brings out their most risky addition: Thai basil leaves. Piti thought of this memorable collaboration with his wife, Kathy, “while driving back and forth across Santa Barbara.”
Mango: Piti’s most personal flavor, made with a creamy milk base and seasonal champagne mangoes, is a tribute to his late mother, who used to make him homemade mango ice cream as a child, and a reminder of how she contributed to his work at Your Choice. Now that he is left with the restaurant to run, he is most motivated by her words: “Just taste and adjust.”
3404 State St.; (805) 569-3730; yourchoicerestaurant.com
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