Finding a Thai restaurant in the Valley is no problem. Finding an honest to goodness, true Thai place in the Valley -- now that's a struggle. Here at Chow Bella, we feel the pain of those cold, lonely nights when satisfyingly spicy Thai food cannot be found. Good news: We've found the remedy in a busy little shopping plaza in Tempe.
Located right next door to Pollack Tempe Cinemas, a bustling budget movie theater known for its $3 movies and collection of life-sized wax figures, Yupha's Thai Kitchen holds its own. A peek into the restaurant's large-windowed wall reveals a lush dining space, complete with a gold-faced Thai Buddha serenely watching over all his visitors.
We visited on a weekday, right in time for the working lunch crowd, so nearly every table was occupied. After scanning the pretty straightforward menu -- 14 different entrees, all served with the option of tofu, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or a seafood medley -- we settled on one appetizer and two entrees. Each entrée comes with a soup and salad, both of which are self-serve and located at the rear of the restaurant.
Happy to have something other than our neighbors' food to occupy our attention while we waited for our own dishes to come out, we bee-lined it to the soup and salad bar and were satisfied by the looks of things. Rather than the typical sad and wilted iceberg lettuce so often served at a salad bar, there was mixed lettuce, fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, red onion, scallions and cilantro, as well as a peanut sauce dressing. The dressing was a bit too sweet for the beginning of a meal, but tasty nonetheless.
Soon our appetizer arrived. We ordered the kanom jeeb ($7), a dish of steamed wonton shells filled with ground shrimp, chicken, imitation crab and water chestnuts. Visually, the dish was a delight with four little dumplings that looked a lot like siu mai, the pork dumplings served at dim sum. The flavor was light and savory, and each bite highlighted the meaty texture of the ground filling. The dumplings were served with a ginger and soy sauce dip that became much more than a side note with its tangy and peppery flavor.
As we finished up the last of our dumplings, the lunch crowd began to trickle out and several waitresses sat at a near by booth wrapping utensils in anticipation of the dinner crowd, all while conversing in sharp and clicking Thai.Our entrées arrived on vibrant orange and yellow plates.
For our first entrée, we ordered the pad nam mun hoy with chicken ($8.50). The thin and tender slices of chicken were sautéed with mushrooms, onions, scallions, broccoli and oyster sauce, and served with steamed white rice. As with most Thai restaurants, at Yupha's diners are asked to choose the level of spiciness, ranging from mild to Thai hot. We settled upon hot, and found the heat to be pleasurable, not overwhelming (this is coming from a spicy food enthusiast). The oyster sauce was very mild, but the dish's heat more than made up for it.
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Though typical, we decided to order the pad thai ($8.50), figuring it would be a good litmus test, especially after one too many overly sweet and gloppy pad Thai. Yupha's pad Thai achieves a good balance of spicy and sweet. There was a pronounced fresh bean sprout flavor and a hint of spiciness that built with each successive bite. Much to our satisfaction, the rice noodles did not clump too much. We appreciated that the ground peanuts were left to the side for diners to mix in, but thought the side egg roll a bit unnecessary.
There is an evident pride that Yupha's Thai Kitchen puts into its food. All in all, we will certainly make another trip to Yupha's the second a cold, lonely night hits -- or any other kind of night, for that matter.