December 19, 2014 update: Thai’d Up has changed its name to Tom Yum. The menu is the same.
Restaurants with puns for names are so common that one scholar, Lynn Westney, has actually written papers and presented at conferences on the subject. On her lengthy lists of eateries that inspire chuckles, groans, or both, you’ll always find plenty of Thai restaurants. Phoenix is no exception to the trend, and with the number of Thai restaurants in the city’s downtown core having gone from zero to three in recent years, it’s inevitable that one of those restaurants would bear a name worthy of Westney’s lists. That distinction belongs to 2011 newcomer Thai’d Up.
Thai’d Up is situated along Central Avenue just a block from the westbound Washington / Central light rail station and two blocks from the eastbound First Avenue / Jefferson station. The space is the ground floor of a small building sandwiched between larger office towers, and the decor is generic but attractive. The dining room is divided with a large main portion on the left as one enters and a narrow area to the right where solo diners and couples are sometimes directed during busy times.
Service is always friendly, but varies in its effectiveness based on time of day and number of tables occupied. If given the choice, take a seat in the main dining room since the smaller side area is often visually isolated from the staff. People probably aren’t going to Thai’d Up to be pampered, though. The majority of diners are there for lunch specials that come with an entree, soup, and spring roll and are priced around $10. There’s also a dinner menu, available in addition to the lunch specials during the day, and exclusively during the less busy evening hours.
|broccoli delight with tofu|
The lunch crowd is always greeted with small bowls of tom kah, Thailand’s rich, herb-filled coocnut milk soup. Not only is Thai’d Up’s rendition thoroughly good with abundant fresh lemongrass and cilantro, but it’s impressive that the restaurant offers this soup, rather than a generic clear broth, as part of its crowd-pleasing lunch specials. Many Thai restaurants make this treat available only by the pot, and of course you can always order one of those if eating here in the evening, but the small bowl offered gratis at midday is a promising touch.
|red curry with chicken|
A vegetable-filled spring rolls also comes with each lunch order, or a serving of five can be ordered a la carte. These are pleasing, classic appetizers with a crisp wrapper around julienned carrots and cabbage with a touch of pepper. The satay is another familiar appetizer. The serving here is four skewers of flattened chicken breast with a smooth peanut sauce for dipping. Among the salads, expect dishes such as larb, made with ground meat over lettuce and mint, and som tum, which features green papaya used more as a vegetable than as a fruit here.
The som tum, like many of the appetizers and salads, is straightforward with good flavor but lacking the promised peanuts and the same complexity as more traditional takes on this dish. The curries are all sufficiently good with the usual panoply of red, green, yellow, panang, and massaman. Where Thai’d Up probably shines most is with its stir-fry dishes, including “ginger angel” with abundant multi-hued bell pepper slices in a dark, gingery sauce and “spicy green beans” with long pods flavored by intense curry paste. All of these come with a choice of protein.
As at nearly all Thai restaurants, there is a noodle section on the menu with popular items such as drunken noodles in a spicy sauce or pad see ew, wide noodles in brown gravy with broccoli, among the instantly recognizable dishes. Beyond these, Thai’d Up offers pho, or at least its take on the classic noodle soup from the neighboring nation of Vietnam. It’s served in a cute triangular bowl and made with chicken broth rather than beef, and lemongrass is a more prominent flavor in the soup than the usual star anise.
|spicy green beans with mixed seafood|
Likewise, the traditional table salad of herbs, limes, sliced jalepenos, and other garnishes is not provided. Instead, the bean sprouts are already mixed in with the noodles. The net effect of all these details is that this soup does not qualify as authentic pho. Nevertheless, call it something else and it’s quite a pleasant Thai-influenced noodle soup. The light broth makes it a good match for tofu, shrimp, or chicken. Beef and pork would probably do better in a more traditional Vietnamese broth.
The dessert menu is unsurprising but good. Both coconut and green tea ice cream are made on site with impressive results; the play-it-safe option of French vanilla comes from an outside source. The sticky rice can be paired with fresh mango when that fruit is in season or a custard dappled with flecks of tropical fruit. The liquor selection is limited to beer and wine, and iced and hot teas are the only non-alcoholic alternatives to the soda fountain. Unlike some of the other Thai restaurants nearby, there are no fresh lemonade or limeade drinks here.
|pad thai with shrimp|
With its Vietnamese and Chinese influences, openly acknowledged in the restaurant’s marketing, Thai’d Up isn’t pretending to reach new levels of Thai authenticity. With two other Thai restaurants within easy walking distance, it isn’t filling a vacant niche Downtown. Nevertheless, a healthy urban core can and should support multiple Thai restaurants in close proximity. Thai’d Up’s name and food will please some more than others. That’s fine. Choices are good, and it’s best not to be “Thai’d down” to just one restaurant.
110 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85004
Washington / Central (westbound) and Jefferson / First Avenue (eastbound) stations