Though its cuisine is Thai and Japanese, Zenna borrows from Spanish culture in the presentation of many of its dishes. The restaurant serves hot and cold tapas. The small, shareable plates range from sashimi seaweed salad to fried dumplings and chicken lettuce wraps. The menu also features curries and noodles, along with sushi. Elegant touches are seen throughout Zenna’s Dallas and Plano locations, which are set aglow by colorful light fixtures or decorated with ornate wall décor pieces.
With green curries, vibrant orange shrimp, and a rainbow of veggies, Sawadika—the Thai word for “hello”—introduces eyes and mouths to the beauty and flavor of traditional Thai cuisine. Past polished wooden booths and earth-toned walls that alternate between a laddered wood pattern and a sea of pinks and creams, past paintings of sailboats and gardens, past a granite-topped bar with wine glasses dangling above, the chefs combine their spices and herbs like artists, dappling plate canvases with a menu of curries, noodle bowls, and seafood. They sauté salmon and catfish in coconut milk and curry, and they stir-fry meats in housemade sauces such as fragrant lemongrass and tangy sesame, creating balanced meals and edible portraits of their customers dressed in royal costumes. They also celebrate the sweeter side of Thai cuisine with desserts such as mango sticky rice and coconut ice cream.
For Shelly Nan, the decision of whom to put in the kitchen of her new restaurant, Bambu Asian Cuisine, was a simple one—her mother. Together, the pair has created a home-like ambiance that draws patrons and wayward teddy bears almost as much as the food. Dallas Observer food critic Hanna Raskin gushed that the “warmhearted owners and servers will explain everything to you (including, by your second visit, your own likes and dislikes).” Nan had connections to the defunct Sushi Rock, and some of its Japanese-style dishes made it to Bambu. However, the heart of Bambu’s menu is Esan-style cuisine, regional specialties from the northeastern part of Thailand. Some dishes spell out their affiliation—as with the Esan waterfall beef salad tossed with cilantro, fresh mint, scallions, red onion, and crushed, toasted rice—while others sneak it in. Dallas Morning News columnist Leslie Brenner said the Esan dishes “set [her] heart aflutter,” particularly the crying tiger beef with sticky rice, whose grains can be balled up and used to pick up both the beef slices and citrus-chili sauce. Like Raskin, Brenner also became quite attached to chef Bounmee Nanthaphak, admitting that “if someone condemned me to a desert island with only three ingredients, I’d ask if we could make it two ingredients and include Bounmee Nanthaphak to cook them.”
Owner Shawn Danapong spends a lot of time in Thai Pan’s kitchen, where he proudly observes his team of chefs doing what they do best: seasoning curries, stirring pots of soup, and baking heaps of shrimp in a clay pot. The resultant plates of steaming Thai fare make their way to a dining area filled with soft music and small plumes of vapor that swirl above pad thai, fried rice, and stir-fried veggies doused in oyster sauce. As diners dip into the generous portions and help themselves to BYOB libations, a small fleet of televisions flickers to life with sporting events.
Best Thai’s founder and chef, Booney, possesses Thai cooking skills that are a little bit highbrow, a little bit homegrown. Her first culinary experiences took place in the family kitchen, where her father passed down the recipes and cooking styles he had learned from his own parents. She soon refined those skills in the kitchens of the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel. With this two-pronged approach, she devises menus—which vary by restaurant location—brimming with pad thai, pineapple fried rice, and panang curries swimming with meat and veggies.
iZap Thai & Sushi Bar's name reflects the dual Thai and Japanese influences that inspire the chefs. Thai-style curries arrive with aromatic combinations of coconut milk, basil, and kaffir lime leaves, which ensure that each bite tastes more complex than a stew full of Rubik's cubes. To accommodate virtually any palate, the chefs can add varying amounts of spice to the entrees and create dishes that range from mild to molten hot. Although the Japanese sushi selection adopts a different approach with its clean, relatively simple flavors, the chefs do roll seven specialty maki with more assertive cores of sriracha sauce or jalapeños.
Cylindrical-pendant lamps and track lighting give the split-level dining area a slightly modern vibe, but the Thai statues and wall art echo the restaurant's commitment to its trans-Pacific influences.