After posting my review of Siam Thai in Glendale, I got a hostile call from Madge. “How come you never take me out for Thai food?” she asked with that harsh tone that sent chills down my spine. As I stammered for a response, I could only lie through my teeth and say, “I am so glad you called. I was just going to invite you out for Thai food.”
Madge’s tone changed. “Really? That’s so sweet, Seth. I would love to go.” Phew! Madge’s anger had been subverted and the republic was once again safe.
So, we made our plans. Madge and Boris would make their way to my house and we would go from there. I happened to mention my plan to Mom while Dad was busy dozing in his recliner, but when I mentioned Thai food, he suddenly sprang to life. “Did you say you were going to a Thai restaurant?” he asked. As I stammered for a response, I could only lie through my teeth and say, “I was just going to invite you along, Dad.”
Dad had a sparkle in his eye. “Really? That’s so wonderful, son. I would love to go.” Alas, I am still in the will.
So, Dad, Madge, Boris and I made our way out to Mesa to try the East Valley’s newest Thai restaurant called Papaya Thai. It is housed in another strip mall anchored by a grocery store. I think we were all a bit surprised by the place when we walked in because it was significantly larger than we expected. The restaurant had a dozen tables or more and the interior was decorated with cream colored walls, various Asian touches and lots of centerpieces. I liked the purple tablecloths.
We were immediately seated at a round table near the front and I was thankful we had an extra space to push the huge centerpiece that blocked our fields of vision. We were handed menus and started reviewing them. The place was very full and conversations were about the very positive write up Papaya Thai had received in the Tribune newspaper.
It took a while before we even got water, but the staff was friendly and working diligently to accommodate all of the patrons. We were asked about our drink order and we had three Diet Cokes ($1.75 each) and one Iced Tea ($2.00). Our server told us he would be right back so we returned to surveying the menus. There were plenty of choices and Boris immediately suggested we order the Chicken Satay ($4.95) and the Egg Rolls ($3.95) for an appetizer. Madge also suggested we try the Deep Fried Chicken ($4.95) as an extra appetizer.
When our server returned after an extended absence, we were given our drinks and we placed our orders. Besides the appetizers, we each ordered our entrees. Madge was all over the Pad Thai ($6.95) while Boris had the Yellow Curry with Chicken ($6.95). I wanted something spicy and had the Drunken Noodles with Chicken ($6.95). Oddly, despite the fact we were at a Thai restaurant, Dad ordered a Chinese dish: Garden Medley with Chicken in Oyster Sauce ($6.95). Although we didn’t order them, we did see some interesting items on the menu like Authentic Traditional Pad Thai which included tamarind sauce, eggs, fish sauce, and tofu and also several pumpkin dishes like Sliced Pumpkin with Ground Meat and Pumpkin Curry. We also noticed that they served breakfast from 9 AM to 11 AM everyday.
After our server left to inform the kitchen of our choices, I asked Dad about his selection and he seemed disappointed at the revelation that his dish was Chinese and not Thai. But we promised he could have some of our dishes and his puppy dog frown because a smile, particularly since the Pad Thai would have crushed peanuts on it.
Despite the rather long wait we had just to get water and place our drink order, our food started coming out of the kitchen in record time. The first dish to hit the table was the Egg Rolls. There were four, somewhat small rolls dressed with shredded carrots and served with Plum Sauce. We each grabbed a roll and cut into it. They were piping hot and contained a mixture of cabbage, carrots and mild spices. The skins were crunchy and the rolls had a great flavor. We did think, however, that they were rather small.
The next appetizer to appear was the Chicken Satay. Five skewers of marinated and grilled chicken were served peanut sauce and cucumber chutney. What immediately stood out was how paltry the serving was. The five skewers combined had less than five ounces of meat on them. This was very much an appetizer not to be shared. The chicken was tender, moist and had a great flavor, but the serving size was incredibly meager. One bite each and we were done. The peanut sauce was quite good. However, the cucumber chutney was more marinade than cucumber.
The Deep Fried Chicken was served and it was very attractive. Meaty pieces of chicken had been coated with Panko and deep fried to a nice golden color and served on bamboo skewers. They came with Sweet and Sour Sauce. One bite and I was hooked. This was an excellent appetizer. The chicken was excellent, but the Panko breading stole the show. Crisp, crunchy and very satisfying, we all raved about this one.
We had just finished the appetizers when our entrees started arriving. Dad’s Garden Medley with Chicken in Oyster Sauce was a very pretty presentation with plenty of vegetables, large chunks of chicken and a light sauce that made the food glisten. The dish had a nice flavor but was nothing spectacular. Everything on the plate was good. Still, there wasn’t anything that produced a “wow factor.”
Madge’s Pad Thai was the usual presentation seen at most Thai restaurants in the Valley. The thin noodles were dressed in a slightly sweet sauce and included chicken, bean sprouts and some crushed peanuts. Madge was very pleased with the dish. She said it had all the elements she wanted and was very happy that it wasn’t overly sweet the way some pad thais can be. Her one complaint was that her meal needed a lot more crushed peanuts. (Obviously, Dad is rubbing off on her.) She said additional peanuts would have greatly enhanced the pad thai.
My Drunken Noodles with Chicken were fantastic and the spiciest entrée on the table. Thick, broad noodles were covered with morsels of chicken, basil and peppers and tossed in a savory chili glaze and sprinkled with Thai spices. It was exceptional and the kick from the spice added a very welcome dimension. My dish was also the most filling on the table. This was pure comfort food and the plate was almost licked clean.
Boris’ Yellow Curry with Chicken was, by far, the best meal on the table. The bowl of chicken, potatoes, onions, carrots, peppers and yellow curry was stellar. “This is the best yellow curry I have ever had in the Valley,” Boris pronounced. And it was particularly wonderful. Silky smooth and delicious with just a touch of sweetness, everything about this dish was spectacular. Boris was scraping the bowl with his spoon and drizzling the remnants over rice to get every drop. I am not a big fan of yellow curry, but I agreed with Boris that this was superb.
After we finished our meals, we decided to try some of the desserts. Madge immediately blurted out that she wanted the Mango with Sticky Rice ($3.50) while Boris, Dad and myself each got Coconut Ice Cream ($3.50 each). We all got rounds of drinks as we waited for the desserts.
Madge’s Mango with Sticky Rice was served first and the presentation was pretty and enticing. The rich, yellow color from the mango contrasted well with the white of the rice. Madge said the dessert was quite good noting that the mango was top notch. She also loved the sticky rice. I was glad they added a dollop of coconut milk atop the rice along with some crushed peanuts. It must have been wonderful because Madge was savoring each bite.
Boris and I had our Coconut Ice Cream served to us in martini glasses. Each glass contained two small scoops of ice cream and a small sprinkle of chopped peanuts. The ice cream was hard packed and I struggled a bit with it to get a spoonful free. I thought the ice cream was decent, but not as creamy as I would have liked. The chopped peanuts on top were also scant. A bit of coconut milk and some additional peanuts would have really made this dessert shine.
Oddly, when Dad was brought his ice cream, it was served in a glass boat and contained three large scoops and a cookie. Boris and I were envious and didn’t understand the discrepancy between what we got and what Dad got for the same price. I was happy that Dad got the larger serving but there was no justification for serving two different sizes at the same price.
We finished our desserts and requested the bill. The total was $70.16 which included tax. We thought it was a good value and found Papaya Thai to have some excellent Thai food.
After dinner, we did have a discussion about our meal and came to the conclusion that Papaya Thai needs another set of hands on the floor to help take orders or clear dishes, etc. We also agreed that the appetizers were not meant to be shared due to their size and that the menu should reflect that because Americans are used to larger appetizers for sharing. Finally, we did not understand the ice cream issue which really made us wonder why there were two sizes for the same cost.
We got into the car and headed to Fry’s Electronics in Tempe before heading home. All in all, Papaya Thai was a really gem in Mesa. The food was fresh, delicious and inexpensive. Other than a small service issue and some other minor items, we all agreed that we would return.
And, thankfully, I was able to keep Madge and Dad happy.
Sometimes, all it takes is a decent plate of food.
[And a hat tip to Firenza for the tip about Papaya Thai.]
2706 East University Drive
Suite F6 & F7
Mesa, AZ 85213
Hours: Sunday through Thursday - 9 AM to 9 PM; Friday and Saturday - 9 AM to 10 PM.
Notes: On the northwest corner of University and Lindsey. Some unique Thai dishes are available. Thai breakfast served daily.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
Papaya Thai Restaurant
2706 E University Dr Ste 6, Mesa, AZ 85213