A bowl or hot pot of the popular tom yum soup made with shrimp is not to be missed, its distinct hot and sour flavors and fragrant aroma courtesy of ingredients like lemon grass, sliced fresh mushrooms, kaffir lime leaves, and Thai chili. And the spicy seafood soup is just as spicy and tasty as the tom yum, but adds the extra key elements of scallops, clams, and calamari.

A tight menu means a small number of dishes need to be made well. Not a problem at Sa Bai. The spicy fried jasmine rice was light, fresh, and perfectly pan-fried, not dry. Unlike many a Pad Thai, whose noodles desperately stick together in a massive clump, the small, stir-fried rice noodles at Sa Bai held their own. And while I found the crispy wontons topping the dish unnecessary, the Pad Thai's sour and sweet flavor finished with mild heat made picking them off the top worth the effort. Stir-fried dishes such as fiery Pad Prik King (dry red curry) featured firm, fresh veggies and tasty beef. And even without the pronounced flavor of anise I wanted in my Thai basil classic stir-fry, it was still tasty, with sweet shrimp, poblano chilis, garlic, bamboo shoots, and green beans.

When it came to the curry at Sa Bai, I found a lot of favorites — in fact, nearly all of them. The aforementioned seafood green curry was a standout, as was the seafood cooked in choo chee, a red curry cream sauce that's spicy with a hint of sweetness. The classic yellow curry was rich, creamy, and mild and paired wonderfully with tender chicken and vegetables. And the mussaman, featuring braised boneless beef short ribs in a spicy curry with potatoes, peanuts, and cinnamon essence, was the Thai version of a comforting stew on a blustery day.

At Sa Bai, fresh, traditional Thai favorites are served in a tranquil setting.
Jackie Mercandetti
At Sa Bai, fresh, traditional Thai favorites are served in a tranquil setting.

Location Info


Sa Bai Modern Thai

4121 E. Thomas Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: East Phoenix


Sa Bai Modern Thai
4121 East Thomas Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Thai lettuce wraps: $8
Sa Bai fried rice: $12
Pad Thai: $12
Seafood green curry: $14

Along with the traditional Thai fare came traditional Thai desserts — fried bananas and sticky rice with fruit — and a brownie sundae. The concept of "Thai-inspired" was there, a chocolate sauce mixed with Thai chili peppers, but, unfortunately, the intended spiciness was not. Still, it's a decent option if a chocolate ending is your thing.

The service at Sa Bai can be as easygoing as the atmosphere, which is not always a good thing when it borders on lackadaisical. Missed opportunities to inquire about drinks or desserts, empty glasses and plates left at the table, and, in one instance, the discourteous dropping off of my check without a word from the server ran contrary to the enthusiasm and passion of the owners.

Especially Holly, who made sure Sa Bai had the blessing of monks.

"A few guests weren't sure if they could come in when they heard them chanting." Eric says, laughing. "We sent them back to the temple with good food and some flip-flops."

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My Voice Nation Help

Funny - just had a party here & one guest (who dislikes all types of Asian food) LOVED the spring rolls :-) I think they have the best crab wontons I have ever had & the service is excellent every time. I kind of enjoy it when the server isn't trying to upsell every time they come by the table - I have a menu and I can read. I have been unimpressed by every Thai restaurant I have tried since moving to Phoenix 7 years ago. Sa Bai's food has made me love Thai again!


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