Michele Laudig calls Thai Elephant and Thai Hut welcome additions to the central Phoenix dining scene

Maybe I should've wished for a million dollars.

Instead, I wished for more Asian food downtown. And while I'm still waiting for the pho and sushi gods to hear my pleas, I clearly got through to some higher powers in the Thai department.

Not one, but two new Thai restaurants have opened their doors since September. Hallelujah!

The Thai Hut crew, including Teera Jattuchai (right), serves up tasty ethnic specialties.
Jackie Mercandetti
The Thai Hut crew, including Teera Jattuchai (right), serves up tasty ethnic specialties.

Location Info

Map

Thai Hut

101 E. McDowell Road
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Category: Restaurant > Thai

Region: Central Phoenix

Details

Thai Hut:
Green curry with chicken (lunch): $6.95
Shrimp pad Thai (dinner): $10.95
602-253-8631
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.

Thai Elephant:
Green curry with chicken (lunch): $7.55
Shrimp pad Thai (dinner): $11.95
602-252-3873
Hours: Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m.

Thai Hut, 101 East McDowell Road

Thai Elephant, 20 West Adams Street

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Thai Hut debuted first, transplanted from its old Mesa location into the uncannily hut-like building on McDowell that once housed Marvin's Garden. A couple of months later, Thai Elephant took over a space on Adams Street that used to be a barbecue joint, and before that, a Cuban place.

For weekday commuters and neighborhood residents alike, both places are a godsend. It's especially nice that they're open for dinner as well as lunch — it's not always a given with downtown eateries — although I wish the lunch selections at both weren't quite so limited. Sometimes a big bowl of Thai soup is exactly what I crave in the middle of the day, but for the time being, I'll still have to go farther away for my noon fix.

(Honestly, speaking of Thai in downtown Phoenix, this is probably the biggest reason I don't go to The Wild Thaiger very often. Just up Central Avenue, next to Durant's, it's convenient, but I can't get soup there until dinner. Nowadays, if given a choice, I'd be more likely to visit Thai Elephant.)

Thai Elephant was likable all around, which made sense when I found out that it's owned by the same family who runs Thai Basil in Tempe, Ahwatukee, and Chandler.

First off, they took a tiny, bland space and dressed it up with pretty flourishes: wood carvings and a lotus-print tapestry on the pearlescent walls; paper lanterns and woven fan blades above; and praying Buddhas underneath an ornate roof extending from the back counter. Black banquettes line both sides of the room, but they've also packed plenty of tables in between. One look at the lunch crowd here and it's no wonder that Thai Elephant needs the seating.

In the evening, though, it's a different story. Word's apparently not out on this place as a dinner option, and I'm sure various construction projects and the lack of downtown parking don't help the situation. Considering all the great dishes that don't appear on the streamlined lunch menu, I truly hope Thai Elephant can stick it out for dinner service.

My friends and I gobbled up the appetizer combination platter, which included curry-scented satay, a few pieces of deep-fried sweet potato (done up in a light, tempura-style batter), small, crisp veggie spring rolls, and fried tofu with a crunchy, crusty coating. We also enjoyed the sweet and sour, plum, and peanut sauces that accompanied it.

Shreds of fresh green papaya, tossed with green beans, grilled shrimp, cashews, and lime juice, were heaped high on a bed of lettuce, surrounded by tomato wedges. As with almost every dish here, my server specifically asked how spicy I wanted it. I didn't even go for "Thai hot" — just "hot" for this one — and it gave me a delicious nuclear jolt. Meanwhile, I liked the Thai tea from the first sip, but enjoyed it even more when I needed a moment of relief.

Thai Elephant's awesome tom kha hit the spot on a chilly January night. Tinted pale peach, with flecks of red chile, the tangy broth went down like liquid silk. Along with shrimp and whole straw mushrooms, it had lots of scallions, cilantro, and galangal as well. My only regret is that I can't order it off the lunch menu.

The kitchen did a great job with sauces, from the creamy, delicate consistency of the peanut sauce draped over tofu and steamed vegetables in the praram, to the velvety richness of the masaman curry with potatoes, onions, carrots, and peanuts. The green curry was fragrant with basil and red chile, while the "Elephant Garlic" and "Heaven Ginger" dishes were both as pleasantly pungent as their names suggested.

Something else I appreciated was the fresh, appealing presentation of the dishes. Far from being one-dimensional, the spicy eggplant contained a colorful mix of carrots, onions, green beans, red pepper, zucchini, and basil in a garlicky soy-chile sauce. And the pad Thai, served on a glossy square plate, looked mouthwatering, with lots of sprouts and cooked egg and crushed peanuts.

While Thai Elephant is all about simple charms, Thai Hut is all about efficiency, especially when it comes to a quick, cheap bite or takeout. I guess it's what you might expect from a restaurant that resides in a former diner. At lunch, service is so swift that you'll probably get a hot spring roll and cup of mild broth before you even order.

In the way of décor, it's pretty Spartan, with clusters of vintage orange and black lanterns and a few framed Thai tourism posters. Still, a fresh coat of white paint and some new upholstery on the booths have made a huge improvement to the dining room.

Actually, my favorite thing about the atmosphere is right across the street, on the façade of the Phoenix Art Museum. Plant yourself at a booth by one of the big front windows and you can't miss the mesmerizing Julian and Suzanne Walking, artist Julian Opie's animated work depicting a man and woman's leisurely stroll. Maybe someday there will be a stream of real pedestrians along this stretch, but for now, the irony is funny.

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2 comments
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I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Rick Freas
Rick Freas

Thai Elephant is wonderful! I have eaten there multiple times now and the food is terrific and the service is quick. My only complaint is that the seating is a little cramped (close together) and the pad thai is less than stellar. Other than that, every dish I have had has been very good.

 
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