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The Latest in Asheville Thai Food: Tamarind

July 16, 2007

It’s time you knew something about me.  I have a bit of a Thai food obsession.  It’s a slightly open drawer from the desk of my late adolescence that seems to be jammed, or else I can never quite slam it shut.   It may have something to do with the fact that I fell in love at a Thai restaurant, and at the same time, I suppose I fell for the restaurant as well.  It’s funny now, when I return this decade-old establishment, this first boulder that began the avalanche of my twenties, the food’s not quite as good anymore.  I can’t put a finger on it, but although Taste of Thai in Greensboro is still way better than anything one might find in Asheville, it’s not as good as it used to be.  Then again, neither am I, probably.

 I’m telling you this because I harbor strong feelings of disdain, disappointment, and “how dare they” about Thai restaurants in Asheville.  That’s right, all of them.  From Wan Pen on Hendersonville Road, the only Thai restaurant truly owned by people who hail from the actual country of this food’s origin, to Jai (or whatever the f it’s called now) to Thai Basil to the take out place on Patton, they are all bad, bad, and very bad.  Which is a particular disgrace because the diners of our fine city probably mostly consider themselves connoisseurs of ethnic cuisine.  What I’m trying to say is we deserve better. 

And we may finally have it.  As I have previously explained, some of the best Asian or non-American food in the U.S. can be found in the strip malls of the American South.  Asheville real estate prices notwithstanding, any restaurant owner with a brain knows to begin their experiment on the outskirts, and gradually move in to town as the dollars roll in.  The owners of Tamarind have wisely done just this.  So it’ll be a little drive to Arden, but it will be worth it.

After taking a left off the Arden/airport exit, we turned left at the first light into the latest strip mall on Airport road.  A brilliant, expansive mountain sunset greeted us as we drove past the pandemonium at Cracker Barrel, through the mobs at Carrabba’s, and onward to the quiet, near-empty parking lot of Tamarind.  If you have ever eaten at Thaicoon in Greenville (also in a stripmall) and loved it, then you are in luck.  The family who opened Thaicoon sold it to move to Asheville and open Tamarind, much to my delight.  We began with wine (don’t order the savaugnon blanc by the glass, it’s sticky-sweet and does not pair well in my opinion) and had to quell the desire to squeal in sheer ecstacy at the menu offerings.  We found: tamarind duck, five-flavor red snapper, sweet basil eggplant, pad woon sen,  and of course the requisite pad thai and curry offerings.  I pretty much have a standard measurement of all Thai food, which is Tom Kha soup and Red or Panang Curry.

The Tom Kha chicken was good.  Not terrific, but definitely not bad.  I enjoyed the fresh (not canned) mushrooms, and the chicken was excellent quality, but I would have appreciated more kaffir lime leaf, and more onions.  But it was good.

The panang curry earned many points for the myriad fresh vegetables involved.  Nowhere in Asheville will you find red peppers, green peppers, onions, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, and broccoli all featured in the curry dishes.  However, the sauce was way too thin.  My friend ordered the tamarind duck which was crispy sweet, tangy, and delicious, although the meat tasted fatty and a little strong for me.  I have not made a final declaration, because I need to return a few more times to get a real sense of the place.  Until then, does anyone want to join me at Tamarind? 

27 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2007 8:05 pm

    sounds great. we’ll give it a try. thanks for the heads-up!

  2. July 23, 2007 3:32 pm

    Noni’s Thai Kitchen on Merrimon is co-owned by a Thai woman, who cooks the food with another Thai family member. The servers are all Thai as well. They are one of the few places in this country where I’ve eaten a correctly pounded and spiced green papaya salad. They also have authentic larb.

    I’m a bit of a Thai food snob as well, having spent several weeks in Thailand, so I look forward to trying Tamarind. And you should try Noni’s!

  3. July 23, 2007 6:32 pm

    That’s right, I forgot about the place on Merrimon. I have to say I did not enjoy it at all when I ate there, but it’s been a long while. I will return and see if it has improved, and if I can explain my issues with the place. But good to know there are actual Thai people making Thai food somewhere in Asheville!

  4. harry hood permalink
    August 15, 2007 5:35 am

    Isnt it Noi’s on Merrimon? Almost all Thai people plus The Fonz. Nice place and I think the food is almost always quite good.

  5. August 16, 2007 5:30 am

    Went to Noi’s today. Ordered the special of the day – Priew Wan. Cucumber, Onion, Bell Pepper, Pineapple in Noi’s sweet and sour sauce. I got it with chicken and though it was a very good disk. Not too sweet or sour and a nice mixture of the tart and sweet vegetables. I also got the Tom Kha Gai. Their version of this soup it good, but I really prefer more onions and galangal. It would be nice if they offered their soups in sizes to serve more diners. Could offer a chance to make a good presentation as well.
    And, a bonus! I my order was to go during an obvious rush and took a bit longer. But, it was time well spent due to my complimentary glass of red wine. Gotta love it.

  6. jenn permalink
    August 21, 2007 11:00 pm

    I just found out about this place and was looking for reviews.
    We LOVE Jae (now Red Orchid). I thought Noi’s was not very good, and Thai Basil was just a step above Noi’s. I went to Thaicoon once (before it became Thaicoon Ricefire or whatever. The owner yelled at the cooks and cashier guy the whole time. It really turned me off. The food was ok. The sauce was very thin there.
    We may check out Tamarind tonight. I am a fiend for Massaman Curry.

  7. August 25, 2007 2:01 am

    I went to Tamarind for the first time tonight and had a horrible experience. First, let me mention that my husband and I are Thai food fanatics, and know good Thai when we taste it. I agree with these other reviews that while Asheville has a plethora of Thai restaurants for its size, it is quite lacking in quality.
    Ultimately, the entrees we ordered were superb, and if we hadn’t waited for over an hour for them, this would become a weekly visit for us. However, no meal is worth that. To be more clear in just how badly managed this establishment appears to be, note this: First, when we got there, we (being the first one’s in line to be seated), were completely ignored for about 10 minutes. Then, the table we reserved ahead of time was almost given away right in front of us. After intercepting that problem, we sat down and ordered drinks and an appetizer, along with our meal. It took 45 minutes to get the appetizer, and while waiting for it, we only received one visit from the waiter in that time period, which meant no refills on drinks or explanation as to what was taking so long. After finally receiving and hungrily scarfing down our shrimp cakes (greasy, bland and spongy), it took another 15 minutes to receive our entrees.
    For me, one of the most spectacular pleasures in eating good Thai cuisine is the act of slowly eating and savoring every bite of all the wonderful bursts of flavors. However, by the time our entrees showed up (which were very delicious), it was impossible to relish the experience. Because my dinner was basically ruined, I kindly asked to speak to the manager. I thought it was perfectly reasonable to ask for a minimum of half off our meal as a good gesture to get me to return in hopes of a better experience and a chance for them to redeem themselves. Not only did the ”
    manager” refuse to come out, she relayed to the waiter that we were not to receive a discount. We then spoke to the host (who offered to take care of us next time we came in and seemed to be trying his hardest to keep things afloat all the way around), who told us that he has been begging her to hire more staff, and she has refused.
    I worked in restaurants for many years (and am very sensitive to and tolerant of reasonable situations that can occur in the course of an evening), and I know that this type (or lack of) management is inexcusable. I certainly hope that this manager changes her tune and treats both her employees and customers much better, or a good thing for our area will be lost.
    Maybe a poor reputation is the reason they left Greenville.

  8. October 29, 2007 10:50 pm

    Ate at Noi’s tonight. It was ok, but just ok. Very fresh vegetables and a good basil sauce, but something in middle of the flavor wave™ just went flat. I ended up dumping all the chili sauce I could on it to fill in whatever was missing and it just did not make it. Afterwards, two other people dining with me basically said the same thing. We were the only customers the whole time we were there, so maybe they weren’t in their groove.

  9. December 21, 2007 3:15 pm

    Thanks for the tip! I’ll try to make it out there. Any idea how vegan-friendly they are? (fish oil, chicken fat, etc.)

    If you ever make it to Cincinnati, OH you must take a side trip to Lemongrass. There isn’t a place in Asheville that can beat them (and they’re Thai as well).

  10. Kristen permalink
    January 12, 2008 5:47 pm

    I’m going to Tamarind tonight, and hope for good results…

    However I have to mention Noi’s Thai Kitchen– my boyfriend was leaving town for the week so we went to have a nice dinner date. It looks pretty cheesy inside, which is disappointing because I value atmosphere. In any case, I enjoyed the food but our date was nonexistent thanks to the owner (who I think is Noi’s husband, maybe the ‘Fonz’ referred to above). We were trying to spend some quality time, and instead this guy insisted on hanging at our table and discussing scissor sharpening. It was unreal how bad a conversationalist he was–he seemed to be boring himself as well. Anyway, he didn’t notice our hints and it was an uncomfortable and frustrating dinner, not at all worth the price.

  11. January 13, 2008 9:30 pm

    Thats the usual Fonz – Lenny I think.

    I avoid eye contact as much as possible. Usually works.

  12. April 29, 2008 11:53 am

    Honestly, Thai Basil is the best IMO from a culinary preparation standpoint, though maybe not the most authentic, in town, you just have to know what to ask for… The Thai chef makes an amazing nam prik pao (you have to ask for it), and their plaa gaeng panang and pad kee mao are excellent and pretty damn authentic… I think the lack of som tam around these parts is really due to the lack of green papaya, not skill level or “authenticity”.

    Unfortunately, none of the restaurants in Asheville have the “real” thing, but as anyone who’s been to Thailand knows, you can easily have a hard time finding the “real thing” in Bangkok (15 baht pad thai on khao san, anyone?).

    In summary, most Thais around here can cook very well, and quite authentically, it’s just that they’re used to serving a bunch of farangs with no palate for spicy, fishy, REAL Thai flavors, and Asheville is chock full of said farangs… I can cook better Thai food than is generally served in these restaurants, but I don’t think it’s because they don’t know what they’re doing, it’s because people who live here don’t know how to eat it (for the most part). I guarantee that pad thai makes up 95%+ of the gross orders in Thai restaurants in this town (and probably America in general)

    I think a comment I heard in a Chinese restaurant next to Earthfare sums up the popular attitude around here – “Who ever heard of a dang Chinese restaurant without a buffet?!?!” – pretty much everyone in China, buddy…

  13. May 1, 2008 12:06 pm

    I completely agree with you, Phrik Khi Nu, that the problem is not with the chefs, but with the clientele not knowing how to eat it. Well said.
    Case in point: CF Chan’s served a fabulous dim sum menu for about four months before they changed their menu to standard chinese fare, because Ashevillians could not handle the different flavors and preparations of dim sum. But then they were just another chinese restaurant with no unique offerings, and they didn’t last long after the switch. it tragic that by and large, folks around here can’t handle truly authentic tastes when it comes to Asian food.

  14. May 1, 2008 12:09 pm

    And honestly, I do really love all of the basil dishes at Thai Basil. I probably eat there more than any other Thai establishment in town.

  15. harryhood permalink
    November 23, 2008 3:48 am

    There is a new Thai “restaurant” in town. (There are 2 tables inside so it is clearly intended to be a take-out place,) It’s located at the corner of Sweeten Creek and Mills Gap roads. It is called “Little Bee Thai” and is actually inside the Exxon station. I know what you are thinking… in the Exxon station? My girlfriend Sam and I thought the same thing but knew we had to try it. It opened last Monday and we finally made it today. The lunch entree was just under than five dollars. Wondering if lunch was too good to be true, we returned for dinner. Prices for dinner were a slight $2.00 higher, unlike the considerable evening surcharge found in many other places. It was all very good. For lunch we had Thai basil with chicken and Panang Curry with beef. It was made fresh as we watched and tasted great. For dinner, we had Spicy Thai Noodles and Phad Thai. That too was prepared in front of us with fresh ingredients and tasted every bit as good as lunch. The portions were normal – not the huge super-sized variety. It was a great deal. We also tried Spring Rolls and Fried Tofu. Both were fresh and tasty and very reasonably priced. Don’t let the location keep you away. It is a great place to get food to go–call it your order, (828) 242-5344, and it will be ready and waiting for you. You will love it.

    Please tell Took, the chef, that Ted and Sam sent you. We promised that we would tell people and I’d really like her to see how well news of such a good person making very good food can get around. We are also interested in making sure that she stays in business so we can keep eating there for a long time to come. South Asheville has a shortage of good restaurants. We don’t want to lose this one.

  16. Soothseeker permalink
    December 29, 2008 12:41 pm

    Update: New phone number for LITTLE BEE THAI (located inside the Exxon station at the corner of Sweeten Creek and Mills Gap): (828) 681-0710.

    Damn!…that place is good! Very reasonable, homemade authentic Thai prepared fresh for you by Took. I go a few times a week now for my fix!

  17. only1lou permalink
    January 21, 2009 12:18 pm

    I have never been a big Thai fan, but after eating at Little Bee Thai (twice in 3 days) I am hooked! I was skeptical as well with the location, but the food proved itself each time and is easy on the wallet. The Chicken and Cashew was fresh and tasty and the Shrimp and Crab rolls Spring Rolls are extra yummy. I even convinced my non-believer co-workers to try and they loved it as well. Hope it stays around 😉

  18. January 21, 2009 1:49 pm

    All right, all right! I’ll head over to Little Bee Thai this week. I promise.

  19. El Cabrito permalink
    January 21, 2009 2:04 pm

    I went last night and the food was tasty and the price was definitly right. I will be back for sure.

  20. harryhood permalink
    January 25, 2009 1:11 am

    They have a web site now.

    It has a menu so you can see what is being offered. Especially useful if you are planning to call in an order.

  21. February 24, 2009 12:02 am

    It must’ve been fate. My husband was craving Thai food; I really didn’t want to drive that far from Montford, but he insisted on the adventure after reading this blog. I was in a bad mood. The idea of going to a restaurant inside a gas station didn’t help.

    It took forever to get there. But as luck with have it, the infamous Ted & Sam were sitting there, waiting for their fix. We placed our order and just walked around, probably dazed by the fluorescent lighting. Ted & Sam assured us that we would be rewarded by delicious food. We got to talking. They are serious foodies and really know where to go in Asheville.

    Well, it was worth the wait. I always order Phad Thai the first time I go to a Thai restaurant. It’s my test. And Greg always orders the Massumam Curry. The Phad Thai’s components were all distinct, fresh and hot. Not mushy and bland like they were sitting around in a pot all day. Greg’s Curry was delicate yet spicy and rich.

    We’ll be back. Again and again. Sure wish they’d move closer!

  22. kendell permalink
    June 11, 2009 1:27 pm

    oh, a fellow lover of thai food! yes, the only thing we miss about greensboro is a our thai restaurant. so if you are there, go to pho hien vuong on spring garden street. we never miss a chance to eat there if traveling thru greensboro. have had many great dishes there, but don’t miss out on the imperial roll and chicken vermicelli. YUM!

  23. henry permalink
    August 19, 2009 10:53 am

    I ate at Tamarind last week and was impressed with the food. I had the green curry 4 hot, my girlfriend had thecrispy duck, 4 hot and we split a pad thai, 2 hot. 4 hot was really hot and i PAID FOR MY ENJOYMENT THE NEXT DAY, HAHA. Overall, the service was great, the food was great, the wines werent what we ordered (twice), and I will be back!

  24. mike permalink
    September 23, 2009 7:06 pm

    Just got back from Portland, Or and had one of the best meals of my life at a Thai place up there called Pok Pok, check out this menu:

    i love that they don’t even bother with Phad Thai, since coming back i have immersed myself in cooking Thai at home. Any local sources for green papaya??

  25. September 24, 2009 11:52 am

    Green papaya. Yeah. Congratulations, you have just discovered the single greatest barrier to Thai/Vietnamese/Korean dining options in our town. There’s not too much green papaya, or other fresh Asian ingredients being shipped up this mountain. I have found some at Kim’s on Patton, but only once or twice, and I can’t remember what time of year it was.

    Anyone else have a green papaya source? We could ask the folks at Thai Basil, because I think that is offered on their menu.

  26. Daren permalink
    May 14, 2010 12:26 pm

    Has anybody ever tried Suwana’s Thai Orchid downtown Broadway? They do have the most authentic food and the owner and chef is Thai. They just opened a sushi bar also it’s a great place.

  27. dingey permalink
    July 12, 2010 9:02 pm

    I’m glad to hear about both Tamarind and Little Bee! Any Thai I’ve tried in Asheville since moving to the area has been a big letdown. Thanks for the tips!

    is there anyplace in town to get real mexican? I mean a REAL abuela-style slow cooked homemade-mole-and menudo-on-the-weekends style Mexican joint?

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