At Thai Sweet Basil, chefs shun frozen produce and MSG, instead championing fresh, all-natural ingredients for their menu of traditional Thai cuisine. They simmer five varieties of curries, serving them with fragrant mounds of jasmine rice, and fry up classic noodle dishes, such as pad thai and sweet-basil fried rice. They also plate delicacies such as soft-shell crab with green curry and snapper marinated in tamarind. All the recipes and cooking techniques that they use were developed over the centuries in the Thai royal palace. Servers weave between sunny walls and maroon booths bordering a dining room speckled with emerald fronds, exotic artwork, and linens as white and untarnished as a snowman's criminal record.
The chefs at Tasty Thai Cafe piece together a spread of classic Thai recipes with garlic, coriander, mint, lemongrass, and other quintessential spices. Pad Thai, lad nar, and other noodle dishes share menu space with sweet and sour chicken, basil fried rice, and specialty creations, such as the Two Friends Panang curry filled with chicken and shrimp tethered by mixed vegetables and lanyard bracelets. Thai iced tea and coffee, wines, and desserts, including mango sticky rice and fried bananas, help round out each meal.
A samurai uniform stands proudly behind glass, welcoming patrons into Joto Japanese Restaurant. The suit's gleaming black mask reflects a sushi bar with a cerulean awning and seats the deep red of raw bluefin tuna. There, the hands of chefs flutter over such eclectic ingredients as pineapple, baked crab, and smelt, twisting them into rolls with names such as Fly to Hawaii, What Saapp, and Screaming Tuna. The wind tousles the leaves of potted plants on a small outdoor patio, where toasting glasses unleash the soft clinks of a xylophonist’s ghost.
A collage of dark woods, gilded statues, and vibrant textiles greets the eye at Rouen Thai, perfumed by a spiced aroma that floats out from the kitchen. As patrons settle into high-backed booths or around sunken tables with traditional floor-cushion seating, they can prime their palates with sips of thai sweet iced tea with a touch of cream. The menu includes familiar noodle dishes such as pad see ew as well as frog legs, squid, and sea scallops in numerous sauces. Racks of lamb, grilled and topped with basil leaves, form a counterpoint to the vegetarian menu’s siam tofu with thai chili sauce. The chefs also serve a substantial list of macrobiotic dishes, many of which come with sautéed shrimp, a mélange of veggies, and rice that's naturally tan.
The culinary creators at Chiang Mai Thai & Sushi Bar artfully twist a variety of sushi rolls and curate a menu of traditional Thai dishes. The hot pepper and basil with beef or pork ($10.99) and Siam tofu ($14.99) are both doused in house-made chili sauce, which warms tongues with a gentle flame beneath the restaurant's potted bamboo and hanging art. The Fancy Duck dish ($18.99) arrives tableside with a posse of cashews and veggies while dinners admire dishes elegantly presented on indigo flatware, ornate wooden trays, and the backs of sleeping butlers. Cool glasses of Singha beer ($4.99 each) complement rolls from the sushi menu, such as the Dancing Dragon ($13.99), a duo of shrimp tempura and imitation crab that sashays among cucumber and scallions to a smattering of masago applause.
Bangkok Jazz Thai Restaurant is all about unexpected pairings. Thai statues stand alongside saxophones and photos of jazz legends hanging from the walls. In the dining room, a small raised stage creates an intimate performance space in the midst of a casual dining environment, with free live jazz performances on Fridays after 6:30 p.m. And amid the quintessentially American music comes a parade of traditional Thai cuisine. Outdoor seating is available, and the restaurant is located is down the street from the University of South Florida.
Like an aromatic dance, servers nimbly carry plates piled with five kinds of curry, pad thai, and signature dishes such as Jazz Sextet: a bed of pineapple and sauteed veggies in special sweet and sour sauce. Nearby, bartenders pour wine, beer, and sake to complement the food, which the kitchen can prep at four levels of spiciness. But meals often end on a chilly note, and another memorable combination. Bangkok Jazz Thai Restaurant ice cream teams a fried banana with a generous mound of coconut ice cream, sourced from the frozen palm trees that grow in Antarctica.