El Paso Restaurant Review: Tara Thai

Bravo's Promo Pic of Chef Sai Pituk
There has been a lot of buzz about Chef Sai Pituk of Tara Thai,  and rightfully so.  After being a contestant on Bravo's "Around the World in Eighty Plates" in 2012, she started out 2013 by competing in a Top Asian Chef competition in Atlantic city this past January.   To be honest,  most of the Asian food I've found in El Paso has been fairly disappointing.  So to have a Asian Chef repping El Paso in the public eye, I definitely wanted to give her food a try.

The Mr. and I went on a Thursday night to celebrate mybirthday, the same day the El Paso Times reported her as a finalist in the Top Asian Chef competition.  Related or not, the restaurant was packed. The place has a very simple, yet authentic vibe. Instead of other Asian places you visit where there is often overwhelming ornate decor, Chef Sai's created a very basic atmosphere with some very cool cultural focus points.

Singha Beer

Tangy Chutney Appetizers

Service was a bit slow but the staff was very friendly despite the packed seats.  Joe started with a nice Asian beer and we were served an Asian flat bread with a tangy chutney like sauce. What a pleasant surprise as it was it was delicious!  The sauce had a tang I couldn't quite place (lime?) but couldn't stop sampling either. We chose to try the Bhu Sawan as our appetizer,  little wontons full of cream cheese, crab, and lime.  Not very adventurous for us, but this was my birthday dinner and due to its' similarity to my personal favorite, Crab Rangoon; I had to have it.  It was great and the presentation was beautiful. We were off to a great start.

Bhu Sawan

The entrees were a bit delayed due to the crowd but our waitress brought another round of the Asian bread and chutney snack to  tide us over. (Yep, technical writer here). Our entrees came out, Joe went with the Street Style Stir Fried Basil dish, beautiful!  We are talking bell peppers, onion, chicken, garlic, chile paste served with rice and topped with a sunny side egg. It was delicious, I think we would have liked to have the heat  turned up a bit on it, but the flavors were really great and I'm sold on anything that comes with runny egg yolk.
Street Style Stir Fried Basil entree

Pad Woon Sen
Sometimes I have trouble making menu decisions, so I randomly choose the Pad Woon Sen. The dish had a lot of ingredients I liked, egg, cabbage, those adorable baby corns, bean sprouts, noodles; all in a special Chef Sauce and your choice of protein.  I choose prawns to make it  more diverse from Joe's.  I have to be honest. I just wasn't crazy about my dish.  The sauce was a little sweet for me, and compared to Joe' s lively bright and spicy dish, it was a little bland.  Now I don't like to judge a dining experience on one night or dish, and everything else had been delectable, so I chalked it up to the fact that I made a bad decision for me.

A few weeks later Joe and I returned to Tara Thai to sample different entrees. We chose to go with the Golden Bags for an appetizer.  Shrimp, pork, and chicken Dumplings, served with a sweet chili sauce.  They were crisp and filling but light enough to feel like you were ready to continue your Thai cuisine journey.

Golden Bags
In addition to the dumplings, I was dying to try out a soup that had caught my eye our previous experience. The Tom Kha Gai was a savory sweet and sour soup, with chunks of chicken,  mushroom and finished with a light lemongrass and coconut broth.  It was a show stopper! And more importantly, it made me throw out the memory of the Pad Woon Sen I hadn't been crazy about the time before.

Tom Kha Gai
When it came to entrees, Joe wanted to try one of the more traditional items that you find at most American Thai restaurants.  My eye was drawn to the curries.  When the server took our order, they asked us the level of spice we wanted in our dishes.....what?!? That certainly didn't happen before, but made us quite happy to the have the choice.   We were offered mild, medium and Thai spicy, I chose medium and Joe bravely chose the Thai level.  While we were waiting for our food, we saw a lady ask to send back her dish that she ordered as Thai spicy, it was too hot for her. It made us a bit nervous that we wouldn't be able to handle it, but there was no turning back at that point.

Joe received his Drunken Noodles,  a classic mix of wide egg noodles, tomato, bell peppers and choice of protein in a rich brown sauce garnished with mint.  It was delicious...and hot!  Thai Spicy is not for the faint of heart, the heat is slow at first than builds in the back of your mouth.  If you really and I mean really like spicy foods, you will enjoy it (despite runny noses).  We knew we liked spicy so it worked for us but if you are unsure, I would test your taste buds out on the medium level.
Drunken Noodles

I chose to order the Massaman Curry.  It is a potato and peanut curry with chicken, served in a spicy brown sauce.  It is accompanied by a side of jasmine rice and  cucumber salad.  Its a very hearty and robust dish, I certainly couldn't finish it all.  This might be a great intro entree for someone who is less familiar with the Thai flavors, or maybe overall tends be a timid eater.  I have a friend who hates vegetables, but I bet this dish would be right up his alley.

Massaman Curry with Cucumber Salad
Overall we had a great experience at Tara Thai and continue to enjoy going there.  We had favorites  in the Golden Bags, Tom Kha Gai, Drunken Noodles and Street Style Stir Fried Basil dishes, so we haven't been able to tear ourselves away from those quiet yet.  However I'm ready to go back and give some of the other items a chance.  As far as appetizers, I'm looking forward to the Thai Spring Rolls, and Som Tom Salad offering green papaya, shrimp, chili,  and lime over a bed of veggies and romaine.  I'm also intrigued by the Crying Tiger entree, sliced beef served with  a sticky rice and spicy lime sauce.  Check out more of what the menu has to offer here:  http://tarathairestaurant.com/TaraThaiMenu.pdf

 If you are looking to break up your routine with some exciting and bold flavors, I would highly suggest going to Tara Thai.  .  I'd love to hear any one else's experiences or suggestions when visiting the establishment.

Until then, Happy Eating!!

- Foodie Smash

(Check out the website for hours of operation and delivery.  That's right, DELIVERY. Something other than pizza!  You don't even have to drag yourself out of the house to enjoy this fantastic food voyage.)
TaraThai Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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