Location: 5313 Ballard Ave NW
Since our vegetarian friend, TN, was coming over to hang out on Saturday, we decided it was the perfect time to finally visit Ballard’s only completely vegetarian restaurant, Jhanjay Thai. I will admit to being an unrepentant omnivore, so I’m not very familiar with vegetarian cuisine. I’ve tried a couple of vegetarian places and found the cuisine uniformly bland. J, on the other hand, spent seven years of his life as a vegan until the day he had a bacon epiphany.
Jhanjay Thai sits on Ballard Ave. just a couple doors down from Bastille. It’s a long, skinny restaurant with a décor that leans heavily towards natural materials and good lighting. Lots of wood. Plants everywhere. Their menu, which mentions that they use no fish or meat sauces, is quite large with a selection of interesting Thai dishes, some of which were unfamiliar to me. They also offer tea, coffee, beer, wine, and desserts.
It feels odd saying this but the servers were too friendly and attentive. Every five minutes during the meal, someone would come over to ask how the food was or if we needed anything. We wondered if this was their normal service or if they had guessed we were doing a review. This intrusiveness slightly impacted our opinion of the place, to be honest. The rate that the dishes came out was way too quick. We had barely started on our appetizers when our entrees came out.
The three of us shared a large pot of flavorful jasmine tea.
We ordered two appetizers. First, the Wonton Cream Cheese, corn and diced carrots mixed with cream cheese and wrapped in wonton wrappers, deep fried and served with plum sauce. The wontons were not fried long enough; resulting in a pale, limp appetizer. The soupy filling added an unappetizing sogginess. It would have benefited from a heavier, binding element. The plum sauce was bland and forgettable.
Our other appetizer was the Tofu Satay, extra firm tofu, marinated with herbs and spices, served with peanut sauce and cucumber salad. Much better than the wontons. The very fresh tofu had a delicious smoky flavor that played off the dark, rich peanut sauce quite well. I am not a fan of peanut sauce but the deep, nutty flavor of this one almost made me one. The tofu satay was plated very attractively.
For his entrée, J ordered the Nun’s Noodles, udon noodles stir fried with enoki mushrooms and mixed vegetables in a light chili sauce. He thought it was good and flavorful but pretty spicy for a two on their spiciness scale. The udon noodles were nice and firm as were the chunks of deep fried tofu. He was surprised at the strong mushroom flavor of the thin enoki mushrooms. The sauce reminded him of good lo mein. J did feel the portion size seemed small compared with similar dishes at other Thai restaurants.
TN chose a dish she’s had many times elsewhere, Tom Kha, hot and sour soup simmered with coconut milk, galangal, mushrooms, lemon grass, cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, and deep fried tofu. The broth, while a bit thin, had a pleasant coconut flavor with just a hint of lime. She felt there could’ve been more and a better variety of vegetables though. She ended up adding garnishes from the tofu satay to her soup. The tofu had the right texture, soft on the inside. Like J, TN thought the portion size was smaller than she had expected but it did hit the spot on a cold evening.
My entrée was the Phad Ka Prau, onions, garlic, bell peppers, mushrooms, green beans, chili, and deep fried tofu, stir fried with sweet basil, including a side of brown rice. The sauce had a rich garlic, spicy flavor with caramel undertones. Very good. I’ve never particularly liked tofu because it tends to be too spongy for my taste, but their deep fried tofu was pretty good. There was a nice mixture of vegetables but they were just a tad bit overcooked. Especially the green beans which didn’t have the crispiness I expected. Unlike J, I felt it was perfectly spiced and just the right portion size. Although the brown rice was of a good quality, it just didn’t have the nutty flavor I prefer.
Large pot of Jasmine Tea: 3.00
Wonton Cream Cheese: 7.50
Tofu Satay: 7.50
Nun’s Noodles: 8.95
Tom Kha (Large): 8.95
Phad Ka Prau: 8.95
Side of Brown Rice: 2.00
J said Jhanjay Thai is one of the better vegetarian restaurants in Seattle, mainly because the food was very flavorful and I have to agree. My entrée was quite good, as was the tofu satay. Even though both TN and J thought their portions were a rather small, they did enjoy their meals. I would say, as a non-vegetarian, that the food was good enough that I didn’t miss the meat. Next time we need someplace to take a vegetarian, we’ll probably choose Jhanjay Thai.
Four out of the five Thai restaurants in Ballard are actually pretty good. In our opinion, for the flavor, variety of dishes, and the awesome brown rice, Thai Thani comes out on top. Then there’s pretty much a three-way tie for second best, depending on what you’re looking for in a Thai restaurant.
Uma Thai is good for quick, cheap take-out, especially if you pay cash. If you’re introducing someone to Thai food for the first time, the mild but good dishes at Thaiku are your safest bet. And Jhanjay Thai is the place to go when there’s more than one vegetarian in a group for its flavorful, interesting entrees that even a carnivore will enjoy. That leaves Mae Ploy in last place for its okay but nothing special menu.
Location: 2021 NW Market St
Thai Thani Kitchen is the newest Thai restaurant in Ballard, bringing the total to five. Located on the corner of Leary and Market across from the Majestic Bay Theatres, the Subway franchise that used to be there is barely recognizable in the chic, almost minimalist interior. The décor has traded the usual Thai kitsch for dark wood paneling with metallic accents. The only nods to the ethnicity of the restaurant are a few faded photos and the pedicab that sits out front. Thai Thani boasts a large kitchen that runs along the eastern wall, open to the dining area.
When looking at their menu the first thing both J and I noticed was the surprising variety of dishes offered. Rather than merely having the usual suspects of a Thai restaurant, phad Thai, phad see iew, phad kee mao, and various curries, Thai Thani also presents a startling array of dishes neither of us have ever seen on a Thai menu. Ranging from the relatively inexpensive Eggplant Jay and Golden Cashew Nut to the moderate, and odd, Spaghetti Kee Mao and Curry and Roti to the rather pricy Red Curry Duck and Garlic Lamb, the variety of choices already put it a step above the other Thai restaurants in Ballard.
Our server was polite and a bit soft spoken. The drinks and food arrived in a fairly timely fashion. It did take a hint longer than I’m used to for Thai food but that was most likely due to the three or four different couples in the restaurant all ordering around the same time. One more note, when we asked for boxes for our leftovers, our server boxed them up herself.
Thai Thani offers Thai iced tea, soda, beer, wine and, surprisingly, a full bar. J and I craved something cool and refreshing so we both chose Blackberry Margaritas from their list of specialty cocktails. I found my margarita light and refreshing but just a tad sweet for my taste. J, on the other hand, liked its sweetness.
As usual, we ordered the Crab Wontons for an appetizer. We were brought eight of the little fried wonton pockets filled with imitation crab, cream cheese and scallion with a side of sweet chili sauce. The wontons were not quite as light as I’ve come to expect and the filling was a bit flavorless, to be honest. The sweet chili sauce was delicious, which made the wontons taste a lot better.
J chose the Thai Thani Noodle, stir fried wide rice noodles, with tofu, onion, bell pepper, bamboo shoots, zucchini, mushrooms and basil in a hot chili paste, for his main course. He mainly chose it because it was an interesting variation on the usual Thai noodle dishes. While he did find it unexpectedly spicy, he loved it. Especially the tofu which was cooked perfectly.
For my entrée, I ordered the Basil Ground Chicken, sautéed ground chicken with onion, bell pepper, mushrooms and basil in a chili sauce with a side of brown rice. Frankly, this dish was delicious. The ground chicken was moist in a sauce that perfectly merged the spicy chili with a fresh basil flavor. The vegetables retained that bit of crispness I love. My dish did not seem as spicy as J’s even though we both requested a 2 on Thai Thani’s 0-4 scale.
One of the best things of my meal was the brown rice. Instead of flavorless brown rice that looks like someone dyed regular white rice tan, Thai Thani’s brown rice is true brown rice. Slightly purple in color with bits of the outer layer of bran remaining. The flavor was lovely. A little sweet. A little nutty. J, who has been to loads of Asian restaurants in his 15+ years of living in Seattle, said he has never been to a relatively inexpensive Thai restaurant that served brown rice like that.
One note about Thai Thani’s spice scale. It runs from 0-4. We both ordered our food to a 2, which turned out fine for me but was a bit spicy for J. He called his a “hard 2”. In reality, on the typical 1-5 scale, I suppose what we chose was a 3 so anyone who goes should keep this difference in mind.
Blackberry Margarita: 8.00 (2)
Crab Wonton: 7.95
Thai Thani Noodle: 9.95
Basil Ground Chicken: 9.95
Brown Rice: 2.00
Barring the crab wonton, Thai Thani served up great Thai food. Better than what we’ve had in Ballard thus far … and that’s including Thaiku. I don’t want to declare it the best Thai food in Ballard yet. I’d like to go back a couple more times before stating that unequivocally but our entrees were very, very good. The ingredients were fresh and flavorful. The brown rice was amazing. The service was great. And their menu includes many interesting choices that J and I both want to try.
We will go back the Thai Thani well before the end of this project. Probably next month to be honest.
Location: 5410 Ballard Ave NW
Fu Kun Wu Bar:
Thaiku has been the Thai restaurant in Ballard for years. Before J and I moved to Fremont for a couple of years, we always went to Thaiku. The service was great. The food tasted fresher than your run of the mill Thai place. There is a creative selection of alcoholic beverages on the menu. Even the décor, in the large, romantically lit main room and the over the top, Thai apothecary shop back bar, Fu Kun Wu, is a higher class take on the usual Thai restaurant kitsch.
When we moved back to Ballard last year, Thaiku was one of the first restaurants we visited, expecting the usual great experience. Which we didn’t get. The service was lackadaisical at best, rude at worst. The food was greasy, bland and lukewarm almost to the point of inedibility. After having an awful time at Thaiku twice, we started driving back to Fremont whenever we got the craving for Thai food. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that we revisited Thaiku for this project.
I’m happy to say the service this time regained its high marks. The server was friendly, quick and polite. The serving of the courses was spot on. Virtually the minute we finished with our appetizer, our entrees arrived, piping hot. Stellar service.
I chose a nice, refreshing rose.
J ordered one of Thaiku’s specialty cocktail, the name of which neither of us can remember. It was served in an aperitif glass and contained brandy, if we remember correctly. He did quite enjoy it.
For an appetizer we ordered the Giow Tawt, crab meat and cream cheese wrapped in a wonton, deep fried and served with plum sauce. One of the lighter Giow Tawt (crab Rangoon) in Seattle. Not greasy at all and perfectly complimented by the tart, almost citrus flavored plum sauce.
I chose the Chicken Pahd Kee Mao, wide rice noodles with red curry paste, green onion, baby corn, red and green peppers, cabbage, carrot and egg. Delicious. The vegetables were wok fried to a perfect al dente letting their natural flavor come through without being overwhelmed by the sauce. The sauce created a caramelized coating over the noodles and chicken which was enhanced by an ever so slight spiciness. Probably one of the best Pahd Kee Mao dishes I’ve had in Seattle. Well up to their old standards.
J ordered the Tofu Pahd See Iew, wide rice noodles with Chinese broccoli, black pepper, egg in a sweet soy sauce. He said it was really good even though it wasn’t very spicy. Everything was cooked perfectly.
I’m having to guess at the price since Thaiku doesn’t post prices on their website.
Mystery Cocktail: 9.00
Giow Tawt: 6.00
Pahd Kee Mao: 8.95
Pahd See Iew: 8.95
Thaiku has redeemed itself. Everything about our visit hearkened back to why we loved the place. Great service and excellent food. Last year must’ve been a bad year for them or something because our meal was awesome. After reviewing three of the five Thai places in Ballard (a new one will be opening up soon), Thaiku is destined to become our choice for sit-down Thai food while the tiny Uma Thai, with its good food at cheap prices, will likely be our go-to restaurant for quick, take-out thai.
Yes, we’ll go back to Thaiku … if they keep up the good work.
Location: 5401 20th Ave
Hours: I will post this later.
After our first day at the Emerald City Comicon, J and I decided we wanted some Thai food. Considering J actually had cash on him, we opted for Uma Thai Cuisine, a little place that sports an offer of 15% off your meal if you pay cash.
Uma Thai Cuisine turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It’s an unassuming little place just off Market Street on 20th. High ceilings, ten tables and very quiet. There are a few Buddha heads and a burbling fountain that give the whole place a monastic feel, which is a chance from the overdone, Thai decorative themes of other such restaurants.
Considering that there was only one person taking orders, answering the phone, serving drinks, and garnishing every dish that came out of the two person kitchen, the service was quite good. On top of everything above, this single server also cashed out your meal, which included calculating the 15% off if you pay cash for your meal. He was so mellow and quiet when taking our order I told J that it was like talking to a human quaalude.
Do not go into Uma expecting fast service. If you want that, go to any of the other, hole-in-the-wall Thai places in Ballard. If you want a relaxed, mellow meal, Uma is the place to go.
While Uma does serve wine (and only wine), J opted for water and I for hot, green tea. My tea was nice and so hot I had to wait until halfway through my meal to drink it, which was okay with me.
J ordered Lard Nar, stir-fried, wide, rice noodles with black bean gravy sauce, vegetables and tofu. This was a dish he hadn’t had in a good long while since it’s easy to mess up. This version turned out quite good. Very fresh tofu, a great sauce, and nicely cooked carrots. He ordered it to be two stars on the heat scale and found it to be seasoned perfectly. Also, the serving size was huge for the price.
I decided to try their Pad Kee Mao, the same dish I had at the first Thai place we reviewed. This dish of stir-fried, wide, rice noodles with basil, onions, broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage and bell pepper in a spicy sauce with chicken was very good. Another huge portion. One thing I noticed was how fresh and light the rice noodles tasted compared to other rice noodles I’ve had. The vegetables kept a bit of a crunch rather than being mushy. I asked for three stars and while it was a little too spicy for me, it wasn’t inedible.
I think the only minor problem was the dish was missing the caramelized flavor I’m used to with other versions of Pad Kee Mao. But this issue is so minor compared to the great taste otherwise I’m almost loath to mention it.
Green Tea: $1.50
Lard Nar: $6.99
Pad Kee Mao: $6.99
We opted to pay with cash, so our entire bill, without tip, came to under $15.00. Unless you choose a seafood dish, most items run in the $6.99-7.99 range.
Unless one of the other Thai restaurants on our list bowls us over, Uma Thai will be our Thai restaurant of choice in Ballard. The prices are amazingly low for the tasty, fresh, well prepared food you receive. The service, while a bit slow, is polite and mellow. Once our survey of the Thai places in Ballard is done, I can realistically imagine asking J to pick up meals from Uma on his way home from work.
Uma is one of Ballard’s hidden gems. If you’re not in a hurry and you enjoy Thai food in a relaxing atmosphere, definitely give Uma a chance.
Location: 6421 15th Ave NW
Time to visit the first of four Thai restaurants in Ballard.
Mae Ploy Thai is tucked in an odd little building on the corner of 15th and 65th, across the street from Zesto’s. If you don’t know Ballard well, you’d probably miss it. The décor is typical of most family run, hole-in-the-wall Thai/Teriyaki/Pho places. Colorful cloth on the windows. Wooden masks on the wall. A fish tank in the corner. Tiny, tiny kitchen.
It seems to be the nearby neighborhood, quickie take-out restaurant. There seemed to be a lot of traffic for their delivery service since the phone kept ringing while we were there. Otherwise, we were the only customers in the place.
Very friendly. We had two different people helping us a nice, young guy and an older woman. Both were helpful and polite. When my first choice for a drink wasn’t available, the woman was able to tell me the alternates quickly. Our food came out in fine amount of time. It did take a little longer than usual for them to bring us our check but we chalked that up to the kitchen dealing with a consistently ringing phone.
J had a glass of Riesling and I a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Both wines were nice but nothing special.
One order of Pot Stickers done Thai style, deep fried with pork and vegetable with black bean sauce. Both of us really liked these. The filling was savory with just a touch of saltiness and the sauce was very tasty. I have no idea what they put in the “black bean sauce” considering the name doesn’t do it justice. It was thicker than the pot sticker sauce you find in Chinese restaurants and much less vinegary. It had a sweet, almost plumy taste that mixed well with the pork.
I had the Pad Khee-Mao, wide rice noodles pan-fried with egg, broccoli, bell pepper, onion, carrot, tomatoes, mushroom, bamboo shoots, chili sauce, Thai basil and chicken. I requested 2.5 stars for spiciness, which was executed well. There was slight spiciness with each bite then an after burn that kind of caught up. The sauce was well flavored, the vegetables were not over cooked and the chicken pieces were well cooked. Overall it was a good Pad Khee-Mao.
J ordered the Massaman Curry, curry paste, coconut milk, potatoes, carrot, pineapple, peanut, onion and fried tofu. As I did, he requested a 2.5 star spiciness. Upon tasting it, he felt that it was way too mild. He judged it to be barely a 1 star, especially compared to my dish. This may have been a mis-communication with the server but he was disappointed in the lack of spice.
Otherwise, as a Massaman Curry fan, he liked the flavor of the dish. He enjoyed difference the fried tofu gave to the texture of the curry. The vegetables were well cooked. All in all, it was good except for the lack of spiciness.
2 glasses of wine: $4.75 ea.
Pot Stickers: $5.95
Pad Khee-Mao: $8.50
Massaman Curry: $8.95
Side of Rice: $1.75
In the realm of hole-in-the-wall Thai places it would be placed right in the middle. Neither horrible nor amazing. If we were really lazy and didn’t want to schlep into Ballard proper for Thai, we might go to Mae Ploy again. Maybe … but probably not. It just wasn’t anything special.