Chef and owner Tottie Kaya learned from the best: her mother, who was an acclaimed caterer in Laos. At her namesake restaurant, the culinary Renaissance woman crafts Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese dishes, and finishes meals with handcrafted desserts such as mango with sticky rice.
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.
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.
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.
At Pink Pepper Thai Cuisine, spice whisperers summon sauces such as thai curry and lemon chili to grace plentiful portions of chicken, beef, and veggies. Twelve appetizers such as baked mussels glazed with spicy cream sauce ($8.95) and marinated Chicken on Sticks ($5.95) set the course for meals to come, like explorers on their way to a legendary city made of foie gras. Wreathed in shredded cabbage, the pattaya chicken ($9.95) swims in an ocean of sweet-and-sour garlic sauce spiked with curry powder, and Arizona fried rice ($10.95) steeps its wok-fried grains and veggies in a thai curry paste before chefs toss in beef, chicken, or pork. Patrons can also sip traditional beverages such as thai iced tea and coffee ($2.95) or head to Pink Pepper’s full bar to show off their good posture by balancing glasses of beer and wine on their perfectly level heads.