When my tummy tells me it’s time for Thai, I don’t have to go far to find my favorite authentic Thai dishes. Tempe has so many great family-owned and operated restaurants that making a choice is the main challenge. You can be sure that the food is authentic, fresh and prepared from favorite family recipes. The menus offer a variety of dishes with and without meat. This means that vegetarians can enjoy a great meal with their meat lovin’ friends and/or family members, and vice versa. You can also find plenty of gluten-free options.
There may be similarities among these restaurants, but each one has its own unique take on Thai. They all deliver a rich blend of hot, sour, sweet, salty and smidge of bitter. Here are a few of my favorites, but this by no means is a complete list. If you have a favorite Thai place, please let us know so we can experience it too.
Smile Lao Thai
2107 S. Rural Rd., Tempe, AZ 85282 | (480) 894-5495
Smile Lao Thai is located at the end of a strip mall on Rural and Broadway. When you walk through the door you’ll notice how fresh and new the decor is. The menu offers several options to choose from including curry dishes, noodle dishes, stir-fry and house favorites. I love curry, so on my first visit, I decided to order the Sweet Pa-Nang Curry for lunch. It was delicious with lots of flavor, the perfect amount of heat and very creamy. It came with steamed tofu, white rice and steamed vegetables. The creamy tofu was steamed to perfection and was the perfect complement to the sauce. The lunch special also came with a spicy vegetable soup – the perfect start to lunch. Almost everything on the menu looked amazing, so it’s a spot I’ll need to visit often to try everything.
Thai Basil ASU
1111 S. Rural Rd., Tempe, Arizona 85281 | (480) 557-0101
One of my favorite Thai Basil dishes is the tom-kah, or coconut soup. This heavenly concoction is made with coconut milk, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, roasted chili and mushrooms. As with most Thai dishes you have a choice of meat. The tom-kai is addicting. I could make a meal out of it alone. However, I also love Thai Basil’s red curry and always order it as well. Besides, ordering both insures that I’ll have leftovers to take home and enjoy a second time. The red curry has a nice amount of vegetables and meat in a rich red sauce that has a distinctive hint licorice flavor from the bits of Thai basil. Love it!
Tasty Thai Restaurant
510 W. Broadway Rd., Tempe, AZ 85282 | (480) 557-9999
Tasty Thai Restaurant is a cute little neighborhood place that serves dishes with mighty big flavors. True to its name, the food is tasty and the portions are substantial. Four of us took advantage of the reasonable lunch specials and ordered the red curry, yellow curry with tofu, pad king and orange chicken. Everything lived up to the restaurant’s name and our expectations. The red curry was all spicy goodness with tender bits of white meat and a nice mix of vegetables; the yellow curry was sweet and spicy with a hint of heat and the tofu was the perfect satiny, creamy consistency. The Pad King was a lovely mix of fresh ginger, onion, bell pepper, mushroom, baby corn with brown sauce. It wasn’t hot, but very savory and flavorful. Anyone who prefers less spicy fare, can’t go wrong ordering the orange chicken with its lightly battered and fried pieces of chicken in a lovely orange sauce.
Yupha’s Thai Kitchen
1805 E. Elliot Rd. #115, Tempe, AZ 85284 | (480) 839-0576
Be prepared to linger a while over Yupha’s huge menu trying to decide what you want to order. Hint: order a glass of the delightful Thai wine to enjoy while you peruse the menu. For me it’s simple. I just can’t not order the luscious, velvety medium hot red curry with chicken. If I have room for the dessert, I order the home made coconut ice cream. It’s cool, creamy and the perfect ending to a perfect meal. I haven’t tried the Pad Thai, but people tell me it’s so good they experience Pad Thai withdrawal if they don’t have it at least once a month. Portions are generous, the prices are reasonable and the servers are friendly and accommodating. The lunch specials are a great value. Yupha’s has won numerous well-deserved awards and has been featured on PBS Channel 8’s “Check Please.”
815 W. University Dr., Tempe, AZ 85281 | (480) 966-0351
Thai Elephant is one of the mainstays for Thai food in Tempe. Located on University Drive, just west of downtown and the ASU Tempe Campus, Thai Elephant is always inviting with great service and ridiculously good food. Favorites here include the refreshing Green Papaya Salad with shrimp, lots of curry options from green to pineapple, and Cashew Nut Chicken. For all entrees, you can choose your protein: chicken, pork, tofu, beef, shrimp, squid, scallop and a fish combo. And you can of course choose your spice level from not spicy at all to brings sweat to your brow spicy. Their portions are large and you might have leftovers, but usually, their food is so good that I can’t help but eat it all.