If you're a Triangle-dwelling Thai food fan, it's likely that you know about Sawasdee Thai Restaurant?it won Indy Week's Best of the Triangle award for Best Thai Cuisine every year from 2007?2011. In 2013, it picked up another honor from the paper: Best Restaurant with Gluten-Free Options. While the Thai chefs at Sawasdee ground the menu in their homeland's culinary traditions?which means the salt comes from fish sauce, the sweetness from palm sugar, and the pucker from tamarind?they're always looking for ways to make them feel fresh and relevant to local diners. That means things such as creating a separate gluten-free menu so no one has to begin their meal simply hunting for a dish that suits their diet. And an extensive vegetarian section leaves out the fish sauce (and egg, if desired), replacing animal products with mixed greens, tofu, and other botanical elements. Naturally, the heat can be adjusted, too, on a scale that starts at "spicy" and tops out at "make-you-cry."
Sawasdee's chefs also give the ingredients themselves extra scrutiny. Even in seasons when fresh herbs are hard to find, they scour suppliers' shelves to make sure they always have authentic seasonings such as galangal and lemongrass on hand. In meat dishes, all-white-meat chicken, large shrimp, beef sirloin, and pork tenderloin bed down on Thai jasmine rice. And at both Sawasdee locations, designers have shown a similar attention to detail in the decor. On Glenwood, a huge compass rose in the ceiling softly lights the dining room's woodwork and trailing succulents and helps curry-intoxicated diners find their way out the door. The location on Capital is less sleek and more cozy, with red walls, traditional carved screens, and even a patio surrounded by dense greenery on all sides.
The multitalented chefs at Café Asia Raleigh draw culinary influences from all over Asia as they devise a menu of cooked entrees and artfully rolled sushi. While sitting in black leather booths or at cherry-wood tables, diners catch whiffs of alluring aromas coming from the kitchen, where culinary wizards conjure up shrimp tempura appetizers, miso soups, and noodle and rice dishes, including lobster pad thai and chicken teriyaki served with steamed vegetables. Flavors from the ocean star in the restaurant’s sushi selection, which includes rainbow rolls with five types of fish and spider rolls with soft-shell crab, avocado, cucumber, and scallions.
Hibachi Sushi's menu teams up traditional Thai dishes, hibachi fare, and sushi hand-rolled to order in a comfortable, casual setting. Guests can kick-start meals with a vegetable spring roll ($1–$1.09) or an order of eight cheese crab wontons ($3.99–$4.99) before continuing culinary journeys with a large hibachi steak and shrimp plate, served with fried rice and sautéed veggies ($8.49–$9.99). A large order of classic chicken pad thai takes taste buds to Thailand ($8.99), and octopus nigiri ($1.99) or dragon rolls stuffed with eel, crab, and cucumber ($8.29) paired with Japanese green ocha tea launch diners on bite-sized ocean odysseys. Today's Groupon is not good for alcohol, and vice versa, as evidenced by the time it woke up in a strange bathtub folded into inappropriate shapes.
Bangkok Thai's chefs cull flavors from the four major regions of Thailand to draft a menu exemplifying the nation's myriad culinary traditions. Bulk up for couch-lifting contests with the protein-rich chicken pad thai, hosting a helping of egg and white-meat chicken alongside bean sprouts, ground peanuts, and scallions in a nest of rice noodles ($10.95). Spicy red-curry duck bastes with pepper and pineapple in a coconut-milk-based curry ($15), while vegetarians avoid meat altogether with the thai cashew-nut dish—a stir-fried symphony of scallions, bell pepper, and carrot alongside tofu ($10.95). Bangkok Thai's special lunch offers a choice from 16 main dishes (such as pad-thai noodle with shrimp or sweet-and-sour chicken), a drink, and one of seven sample portions, including edamame and fried tofu ($8)—the latter, a favorite of health-conscious heat particles.
Lemongrass Thai Restaurant’s extensive, authentic menu is filled with Asian appetizers and entrees with a distinctive Thai-chili kick. Acclimate taste buds to the fiery fare with a starter of crispy fried calamari with chili dipping sauce ($6), allowing eaters to customize spiciness by the bite, or step up the mouthgame with the spicy grilled duck panang ($15), duck breast prepared spicy, very spicy, or extremely spicy and topped with creamy curry, green beans, and carrots. Seafood lovers can experience Southeast Asia’s distinctive take on soft-shell crab, with golden-fried crab in a spicy basil sauce ($18). Lemongrass’s offerings also include authentic Thai entrees that feature heat-free flavors, such as classic pad thai noodle ($12, stir-fried rice noodles with shrimp, eggs, tofu, and crushed roasted peanuts in a sweet-and-sour tamarind sauce).
Chef Kowae of Spize Cafe delights diners with a menu brimming with gourmet sandwiches, curry dishes, and exotic salads. A hearty seasonal soup paves the way for more sizable spreads, such as the lemongrass pork loin baguette sandwich ($7.95), or a Spize speciality grilled cumin chicken with curry-peanut dressing served alongside mixed green vegetables ($7.95). Dress up a thai red curry with your choice of chicken, tofu, or shrimp ($7.95–$8.95) for a culinary fashion statement more delicious than a crunchy nougat cummerbund. Although a seemingly tame garden dish, the green papaya salad—topped with jumbo prawns and chili-lime-and-palm-sugar dressing—can be custom seasoned to make the taste buds tingle, burn, or sweat ($8.95). A separate gluten-free menu gives diners a bounty of wheat-free options, and a variety of meatless munchies give vegetarians something to graze upon, such as a vegetarian mint spring roll served with sweet-and-sour dip and roasted peanuts ($5.95).