Sa Bai Modern Thai: Happy Hour Report Card

The Gingerpear martini was on point flavor-wise but needed better execution.
The Gingerpear martini was on point flavor-wise but needed better execution.
Evie Carpenter

The Spot: Sa Bai Modern Thai 4121 East Thomas Road 602-954-8774 sabaimodernthaiphoenix.com

The Hours: Happy Hour is Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Perfect for: Satisfying that Thai craving at nearly any waking hour.

Interior: The sign outside of Sa Bai Modern Thai explains that the name means "to relax" in Thai. Surprisingly, this free-standing restaurant right next door to a self-serve car wash has created a rather calm, low-key atmosphere.

See also: Cafe Tranquilo: Happy Hour Report Card

Looking around the restaurant, it's clear the space used to house some sort of fast food chain (our guess is a Wendy's), but you really have to pay attention to figure that out. The family who owns this Thai spot has transformed the space with dark paint, wood floors, decorative dividers, and a new bar. The frosted windows at the street-side of the dining room shelter diners from the hustle and bustle of Thomas Road.

The servers are nice and helpful, but seemed distracted during our Sunday afternoon visit. We waited for our check with dishes empty on the table while we watched our server text on her phone behind the bar. Maybe the cloudy weekend weather was to blame for this lackadaisical service because we do remember having better experiences on previous visits.

The crab wontons were just what we expected, unlike the other appetizers.
The crab wontons were just what we expected, unlike the other appetizers.
Evie Carpenter

The Food: All of Sa Bai's appetizers, which cater heavily to the Americanized Asian food lover, are two dollars off during happy hour. We sampled the crispy Thai rolls, the crab wontons, and the clay pot steamed clams. Except for the wontons ($4), which were made with the standard imitation crab, cream cheese, celery, and onions, the appetizers were not exactly what we expected. Both the wontons and the crispy rolls came with a side salad, which we thought was a nice but unnecessary touch for an appetizer.

 

We didn't find any pumpkin and very few kernels of corn in out crispy Thai rolls.
We didn't find any pumpkin and very few kernels of corn in out crispy Thai rolls.
Evie Carpenter

It was the pumpkin and sweet corn promised in the crispy Thai rolls ($4) that convinced us to order them, but when the five fried rolls came, we found no pumpkin and only a few pieces of corn in all the rolls. Without those additions, they were basically typical fried spring rolls found anywhere else -- not bad, but definitely not the unusual appetizers we were hoping for. Maybe the pumpkin was missing because it's out of season currently, but, if that is the case, we wish the menu had reflected that before we ordered.

The steamed clams ($8) easily could have been a generous entree for one person. The clay pot arrived at the table piping hot with a bowl of white rice instead of a side of bread. Though the menu said the broth contained lemon grass, chili, garlic, onion, sweet Thai basil, and white wine, it tasted more like a garlic and soy sauce that could have just as easily dressed beef and broccoli rather than the delicate clams. Again, the sauce wasn't bad -- it was actually quite addicting, especially when you got a perfect bite with a clam, piece of onion, and basil -- but it was definitely not what we imagined based on the menu's description.

The steamed clams were flavorful but a little heavier than what the menu described.
The steamed clams were flavorful but a little heavier than what the menu described.
Evie Carpenter

The Drinks: Sa Bai has a surprising selection of cocktails, sake, beer, and wine on their drinks menu. Though all of the spirits are not on the happy hour menu, a good handful of the martinis and "sake-tinis" are two dollars off.

The Gingerpear martini ($5) caught our attention with its combination of Absolute pear, cucumber, sweet and sour, and pickled ginger. The flavor of the drink was excellent -- light but well-balanced with the cucumber taming the spice of the ginger. But the more we drank, the more it seemed like we should have gotten a utensil to scoop up all the bits of ginger floating around in our glass so we didn't have to chew our cocktail.

Sa Bai also offers a dollar off all beers and spirits and $5 glasses or $20 bottles of wine during happy hour. Next time, we may just skip the cocktails all together, take advantage of the great deal on wine, and split a bottle with the table.

Conclusion: If Sa Bai would revisit the menu and adjust some of the descriptions to better fit the actual dishes served, we would have left happy hour more satisfied. Everything was fine -- not completely remarkable, but not bad at all. If we'd had a better idea of what we were ordering before it arrived at the table, we would have set our expectations accordingly and not been disappointed. But with that being said, we would return to Sa Bai, if for nothing more than to satisfy a crab wonton fix and to unwind in the neat atmosphere. Plus, Sa Bai offers happy hour every day and most of Saturday and Sunday, which scores some points in our book.

Don't miss: The crab wontons Skip this: Crispy Thai rolls

Grade: B-

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Sa Bai Modern Thai

4121 E. Thomas Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85018

602-954-8774

www.sabaiaz.com


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