Budget Beat: Tipps 88 Thai Cuisine

By Jay Bennett

Times are tough, indeed, but I was surprised to find a really good and relatively inexpensive Thai spot in Tempe to be dead on a recent Saturday night. What gives? Has it gotten to the point where folks can't drop $10 for an entree anymore?

Here's hoping the dreadfully slow Saturday night at Tipps 88 Thai Cuisine was an anomaly, because this strip-mall joint, on a sleepy stretch of East University Drive, deserves better.

This is no college-town hole in the wall. Tipps 88 is tastefully decorated, clean, and inviting, with a nice, shaded patio for al fresco dining now that the weather is so pleasant. For dinner, I'd prefer the lights to be dimmed a bit more, but they weren't offensively bright, either.

Like a lot of Asian eateries, Tipps 88 has a menu as long as your arm, but this one has something that many others don't, an extensive vegetarian menu. This pleased the missus, who's doing her best to abstain from munching on dead animals. Me, I'm still one of those carnivorous Philistines, especially when I'm dining out.

We started with some egg rolls because you just gotta try them whenever you go to a new Asian place. Tipps' meatless egg rolls — filled with cabbage, carrots, and tiny rice noodles — certainly did the trick, even if they weren't the best I'd ever had. Extra points for the dipping sauces, one of which was insanely hot. In fact, I underestimated its power on my first bite. Sure enough, my sinuses cleared, my eyes teared up, and my face turned red. Loved it.

The missus went for the standard: pad Thai. That particular staple of Thai cuisine is always a good way judge a Thai restaurant. Tipps' version was pretty darn good, sweeter than most and loaded with more peanuts (pad Thai's secret weapon, in my book) than most. Stocked with big pieces of shrimp, the pad Thai was a success, and a respectably priced $8.99. She was definitely a member of the Clean Plate Club that night.

I opted for one of Tipps' specials: Thai Green Curry Chicken, which is served only Friday and Saturday nights. I liked it, especially for its very light curry broth. Some places' curry is thicker and soupier, and, hence, more filling. The veggies — big chunks of zucchini, green beans, snap peas, and red bell pepper — were fresh and flavorful. And speaking of secret weapons, this had its own: delicious sautéed leaves of Thai basil. Mmmm. Again, decently priced at $9.75.

There were actually a lot of things that looked really good on the menu, but I steered clear of them in the name of keeping the bill down for the sake of Budget Beat. In the future, I'd like to try Pepper Garlic Scallops ($13.25), Spicy Catfish ($11.45), Sugar Cane Shrimp ($9.50), and Thai Honey Garlic Ribs ($10.45), and Asparagus with Shrimp ($11.45). They all sound so good.

Along with a green tea for me and a coffee for her, we escaped for just under $40 (the egg rolls were actually kinda pricey at $6.95). Perhaps that's a hair too expensive for a casual night out for two in Tempe. What do you think? In this crummy economy, what are looking to spend for a casual dinner, and where do you go to find such a meal? Write to me at jay.bennett@newtimes.com with your opinions, suggestions, and recommendations.

Tipps 88 Thai Cuisine 1435 East University Drive, Tempe 480-968-3234 Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

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