With cursive handwriting no longer emphasized in some schools and many documents now signed digitally instead of with pen and ink, it’s easy to wonder if signatures still have the same significance they once had. Even if many people now sign their names with block letters, the concept of a signature still has some prestige. That’s why some credit cards have “signature” in their brand names. In downtown Phoenix, one facet of the Thai Basil group of restaurants incorporates “signature” into its name, resulting in Thai Basil Signature on Adams Street.
The Thai Basil name is used throughout the metropolitan area for any number of restaurants, although not all are under the same ownership. This particular version of Thai Basil is affiliated with two others, one each in north Scottsdale and northeast Phoenix. The “signature” in the name may help to distinguish the restaurant from other variants of the Thai Basil brand found elsewhere; however, the word does not necessarily describe a distinctive approach. This particular restaurant is an urban version of a familiar template with a few of its own touches.
The location is on the ground floor of the Orpheum Lofts residential building. The restaurant directly addresses the corner of First Avenue and Adams Street with entrances on both. The Washington / Central (westbound) and Jefferson / First Avenue (eastbound) stations are both just a block away. The Van Buren light rail platform offer another set of options two blocks to the north at Central Station. Bike racks built into parking meters are found across the street on the east side of First Avenue and around the corner on both Adams and Monroe streets.
With floor-to-ceiling windows facing two streets, the small dining room is well-lit and highly visible from the street. A small bar in the center of the space is typically used by solo diners and customer and couriers awaiting to-go orders. For the most part, though, diners are seated by the staff at dark wood tables. The portraits of royalty customary at so many Thai restaurants look over the room, a golden Buddha adorns the bar, and purple walls with gold accents in some sections of the restaurant add a vibrant touch of color reminiscent of Thai orchid flowers.
If the decor is fairly standard for an American Thai restaurant, so is the menu. That’s not to say neither has distinctive touches, though. Among the appetizers, this Thai Basil seems to be in the minority of local Thai restaurants offering tod mun, fish cakes with a sweet chili dipping sauce and chopped cucumbers. Usually made from catfish or another species with mild, white flesh, they are seasoned with red curry paste and have a texture that is somewhere between crisp and chewy. They should be more popular than they are, but thankfully they are available here.
Another distinctive starter here is the Crispy Sweet Potato, deep-fried slices served with Thai plum sauce. Of course, items familiar from any number of Thai menus around town can also be found on the appetizer menu. Chicken satay, spring rolls, and fried tofu are among the standbys readily available to begin a meal here. Crispy noodles, calamari, and coconut shrimp all reinforce the fried food theme so often found in appetizers. Like many Thai restaurants, this Thai Basil also branches out into other east Asian cuisines by offering edamame and tempura.
Thai Basil, at this location, like all others, advertises a signature entree of fresh leaves of basil stir-fried with assorted vegetables and a choice of protein. At this location, the options are expansive. The usual chicken, beef, pork, tofu, and shrimp are augmented with less common choices of lamb, salmon, filet of sole, roast duck, and mixed seafood. For the most part, all of the entrees here follow this modular approach; however, a few exceptions such as the roasted duck curry specifically pair a meat with a sauce and preparation matched to its flavor.
Thai food is as much about color as flavor, and the various curries on the dish do their part to contribute to a vibrant spectrum. The green curry’s tinge from the herbs and spices in its base contrasts with the bold purple of eggplant within the sauce. Yellow curry might be a bit more subdued with chunks of potato hiding within its sauce, but artfully carved carrots on top add a bit of variety. Red curry contrasts nicely with florets of broccoli, and the pineapple curry, a variation of red, adds the golden yellow color and sweet, tart taste of tropical fruit to the spicy base.
While the stir-fry dishes and curries pair best with jasmine rice, Thai Basil Signature offers the typical variety of noodle dishes. Pad Thai makes an inevitable appearance. Pad see ew and pad rad nar both incorporate wide noodles with the latter involving an equally thick sauce. The curry noodles are a more soup-like dish with coconut curry as a base and garnishes of red onions, a wedge of fresh lime, and crispy egg noodles. Spicy noodles are a drier preparation of pan-fried noodles with myriad vegetables and a bit of heat and garlic flavor in the sauce.
The restaurant’s small bar serves bottled beer and wine. Desserts include mango with sticky rice, including a choice of either white or purple grains. As would be expected in the downtown business district, the restaurant draws its biggest crowds at lunch, when value-priced specials prevail. Thai Basil’s downtown presence may not have many unique touches not found elsewhere, but with consistent quality, it fits into the urban fabric of the surrounding neighborhood, adding its own signature to the growing roster of downtown restaurants.
114 W. Adams St., Phoenix AZ 85003
Van Buren / First Avenue or Jefferson / First Avenue stations (westbound)
Van Buren / Central or Washington / Central stations (eastbound)