Feeling perhaps a little adventurous, Deirdre Pain wandered into a Thai restaurant one evening in the early 1980s. She expected to taste a few dishes she had never heard of before, but she didn’t expect to discover a lifelong obsession. Enticed by the flavorful spices and the delicate balance between sweet and salty, Pain soon became so enamored with Thai cuisine that she teamed up with a local chef to open a restaurant of her own, and in August of 1987, Malee’s on Main was born. 25 years later, Malee’s is still thriving thanks to its unique, upscale take on the traditional Thai restaurant, which includes doing some things a bit differently. All of the dishes, for example, are prepared in 10-inch sauté skillets to ensure that several people can order the same dish–-coco chili fish, crispy basil chicken, slow-roasted duck curry––and have it prepared differently. The same thoughtfulness is apparent in the restaurant’s dining areas. Comfy patios allow diners to bask in sunshine or enjoy a cool evening breeze, while cozy fireplaces accommodate those who like to swap ghost stories around a plate of crab rangoon.
Just past the vault door lies The Mint’s most valuable treasures: trays of expertly crafted cocktails and martinis. Housed in 7,000 square feet of a former bank building, The Mint nods to its previous life with money-themed drinks and rich, Asian-inspired tapas from a menu conceptualized by the restaurant's executive chef, Johnny Chu. Small plates of loganberry shrimp, wasabi sliders, and flash-fried sugar-cane pork take their place at booths cut with dark wood and cohiba marble or along seats at the main room’s 30-foot bar. Drinks include The Mint, a mélange of Grey Goose La Poire, star fruit, mint, and lemon, and Liquid Gold, which pairs a pineapple-infused vodka with Grand Marnier, amaretto, lemon, and raspberry, all heated to 1,948 degrees Fahrenheit. After fueling up with comestibles and drinks, diners can explore the patio’s cabana-style seating or take a break with some bubbly at the coed bathroom’s champagne bar.
It's hard to define the vibe at American Junkie. Is it a sports pub? Is it a dance club? A craft-beer bar? In truth, it's a bit of all of these things, with the atmosphere and activities changing from the time it opens to the closing of the doors late into the night (2 a.m. Wednesday?Saturday). Oftentimes, the cheers of sports fans ring out as they follow American Junkie's resident teams: the Seattle Seahawks and the Ohio State University Buckeyes. The 20 HD plasma TVs also beam all the major UFC, boxing, and tickle fights.
Beneath several of the screens stretches a circular bar, where bartenders mix cocktails and pour all-American spirits?including craft beers, whiskey, bourbon, and wines sourced from California. But those drinks only account one part of American Junkie's menu. The rest comes from the kitchen, where chefs bake pizzas over mesquite wood, make grilled cheese sandwiches with gouda and crisp green apple slices, and slather ribs in barbecue sauce.
Meals often begin with housemade potato chips (complete with blue cheese dressing for dipping) and end in something truly decadent: a dessert called Half Baked. Vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup cover a half pound of cookie dough, which is baked in a deep-dish pan.
To make Thai Basil’s signature dish, chefs sauté the restaurant’s namesake herb with spicy garlic, bamboo shoots, and a variety of vegetables. Thai basil is also found in a bounty of other plates—grilled eggplant brightens beneath its characteristic tang, spicy fried rice takes on a Thai flavor with the herb, and three curry dishes incorporate it in their stews of coconut milk and spices. Tofu, beef, chicken, and a selection of seafood play central roles in the restaurant's selection of rice, noodle, stir-fry, and grill entrees, each conveniently priced by protein rather than individual dish or the number of letters in its name. Dishes find complement in a wide selection of iced and hot teas and traditional desserts, such as sticky purple rice topped with Thai custard.
PaPaYa Thai Restaurant’s chicken mango curry won Best Thai Curry 2009 by Phoenix magazine. It brims with the bold, sweet, and spicy flavors of coconut milk, mango, and red-curry paste, further enhanced by sweet basil, lean chicken, and bell peppers, each shaped like a life-size Stanley Cup. It’s testament to the carefully crafted dishes typical of PaPaYa, which serves traditional dishes that alternate between sweet, sour, and salty flavors and feature no MSG. The barbecue grill adds crispiness to chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, and salmon, each plated beside thai sticky rice and sides of sweet chili dip or spicy lime sauce. Most dishes can be made vegetarian on request, and PaPaYa’s attentive waiters encourage patrons to pick their preference of spiciness, ranging from mild and medium to thai hot.
Despite being one of several Asian-inspired restaurants in the East Valley, Thai Spices doesn’t just stand out—it’s “one of the shining stars,” according to Geri Koeppel of Phoenix magazine. It opened in 2009, bringing in a chef who helmed a handful of Thai eateries in San Francisco. At Thai Spices, the menu revolves around traditional, authentic Thai dishes, including chu chee tempura fish that Koeppel called “heavenly, made with delicate, flaky fried basa that didn’t get clobbered under a smooth but sinus-clearing coconut red curry.” The chef also ladles bowls of thai boat noodle soup, named for the time in Thailand when boats were the primary mode of transportation because all the roads had been turned into slip 'n' slides. Its noodles, brown broth, and beef or pork are often considered comfort fare by many Thai people. For a lighter sampling of its namesake cuisine, Thai Spices offers a daily happy hour, during which appetizers—veggie rolls, fried calamari, tofu satay—and imported beers, sake bombs, and cocktails are on special.