12914 W. Sunset Hwy., Airway Heights, salathaispokane.com, 244-4800
My girlfriend doesn't care much for Thai food, but she wants to go back to Sala Thai. The out-of-the-way lunch and dinner spot in Airway Heights bustles as the hostess tell us she can seat us now, but it will be about a 45-minute wait for food. It's busy tonight, but it was worth the wait.
My companion suggests I order the prik king, a spicy curry dish that earns her an equally spicy look. I instead go with the Panang curry, which I'm told is the most popular curry here. The thick curry in coconut milk with veggies and your choice of meat (pork, chicken, beef or tofu) is served in a bowl with a hearty scoop of white rice on the side. The portion is not quite enough to split between two people, but enough for leftovers. I ate the whole thing.
She gets the pad kee mao — another of Sala Thai's most popular dishes. Wide rice noodles, three meats, egg and veggies stir-fried together; it would undoubtedly take more than one person to finish a single portion.
For 15 years, Sala Thai has had a reputation for being sinus-clearing spicy, with levels ranging from 1 to 5. Our waitress says their level 1 is "medium;" level 3 is too much for many people to enjoy, she adds. I stick with level 1, but, as someone who likes spicy food, I wish I would have bumped up to level 2. My dining partner, who cannot handle spicy food, tries a curry-covered pepper: it's tolerable, but she's glad that she didn't add spice to her dish. (MITCH RYALS)
1003 E. Trent; 1325 S. Grand Blvd.; 101 N. Argonne Rd. (Spokane Valley), spokanebangkokthai.com
Little things like freshness and consistency are what makes a Thai spot stand out from the crowd. So it is with Bangkok Thai and its three Spokane locations. Crispy veggies and bright flavors are the rule, whether you're ordering something familiar like Pad Thai or something more adventurous like duck noodle soup.
The best way to sample Bangkok's culinary wares is at lunch, when $11.95 combo plates offer the opportunity to nibble through a nice cross-section of their offerings. You pick two of 10 dishes, and also get jasmine rice and two spring rolls; for $3 more you can add a third entrée or hot-and-sour soup. The gang daeng (red curry) is outstanding — you'll be sopping up every last drop with the rice — and the pad preaw wan (sweet-and-sour chicken, beef or pork) boasts a nicely acidic, sweet blast from the pineapple, alongside cucumber, celery, tomato and green peppers. The pad hin ma pan (cashew chicken, beef or pork) is another strong pick. All dishes are available with spice levels between 1 and 5, and the 3 had a nice kick for this heat-lover. (DAN NAILEN)
5406 N. Division; 2926 E. 29th; 12722 E. Sprague Ave. (Spokane Valley); 2010 N. Fourth St. (CdA), thaibamboorestaurant.com
When Inland Northwest folks think of Thai food, a spot that often comes to mind is Thai Bamboo, the popular local chain with four locations across Spokane and Coeur d'Alene. Thai Bamboo also counts itself as one of the Inlander's Best Of Hall of Fame winners, surpassing 10 first-place titles in the annual reader's poll since owners Tom and Matavee Burgess launched the restaurant in 2001.
Between the atmosphere — each location features decadent décor in the form of statues, tapestries and other art bought in Thailand by its owners; the twinkling ceiling at the flagship North Spokane location is an attraction by itself — and the expansive menu created by head chef Matavee, a native of southern Thailand, it's clear why so many locals get their fill of Thai cuisine here.
Beyond the always popular Pad Thai noodles — many Americans' "gateway" to Thai food, and also Bamboo's top-selling dish — diners can branch out widely to experience the diverse offerings of southern Thai cuisine, which tends to be spicier and also features plenty of seafood. Next time you're there, try ordering off Thai Bamboo's house specialty list, which features items you'll be hard-pressed to find versions of elsewhere. (CHEY SCOTT)
LINNIE'S THAI CUISINE
1301 W. Third, linniesthai.wordpress.com, 838-0626
Linnie's has been around for more than 25 years, so they must be doing something right at this mom-and-pop staple in downtown Spokane. The menu has all the classics covered, like Pad Thai, tom yum soup, Panang curry, and Thai fried rice, along with some more adventurous options like squid in coconut milk, and opportunities to branch out, like trying their sweet-and-sour deep-fried fish, rather than the standard sweet-and-sour chicken.
However, I went with my go-to at every Thai restaurant: the heavenly massaman curry, a sweet and salty delight with coconut milk, potatoes, peanuts and onions. Linnie's did it justice, with a sweeter and lighter take than I've had in the past. My companion, also a Thai food lover, went for pad kee mao, or drunken noodles, instead of her usual Pad Thai, and enjoyed it as well. We both really liked the particular kind of spice in our dishes — Linnie's also features the 5-level spiciness scale, and our 2- and 3-level dishes both had a pleasant heat that was more at the back of the mouth (instead of the numbing, tongue-consuming, metallic heat that some restaurants go for).
The portions were huge, the service was quick, and the ambience was very low-key, all the right ingredients for two satisfied and slightly sleepy diners. (RAVEN HAYNES)
OUR THAI HOUSE
1415 N. Hamilton, Facebook: Our Thai House Restaurant, 487-4237
I love Thai food, by which I mean I love Pad Thai. Sometimes I'm so daring as to get Pad Thai with slightly different noodles. But here in the Inlander food section, we're down for adventure. So at Our Thai House, I order a whole new entrée: Panang curry with chicken. The four stars of spiciness — up from my traditional three — turns out to be a perfect match for the dish. The inherent coolness of the creamy, coconutty sauce hits you first, then the heat from the spiciness hits you a second later. That's what you want in a good sauce; multiple tastes harmonizing together. The broccoli is the downfall of a lot of dishes like these. Slightly overcooked, broccoli would become spongy and wilted. Undercooked, the crispness of the broccoli would overpower the rest of the dish. But this broccoli, swimming in the sauce along with the chicken, is perfectly cooked, teaming up perfectly with the rice, chicken and sauce.
The portions are large enough, however, that one bowl of rice simply isn't enough for the entire dish. I ask for another bowl and quickly receive it, free of charge. (DANIEL WALTERS) ♦
Also try these local spots for tasty Thai food
Maw Phin, 14819 N. Newport Hwy., Mead, 466-8424
A Taste of Thai, 419 W. Hastings, 466-3335
Thai on 1st, 411 W. First, 455-4288
Thai Kitchen, 621 S. Pines Rd., Spokane Valley, 926-8161
Sri Prasert Thai Bar & Grille (formerly Mama's Thaiway Lounge), 5908 E. Broadway Ave., Spokane Valley, 534-3040
Thai Garden, 7 S. Main St., Deer Park, 276-7599
Thai Ginger, 300 S. Grand Ave., Pullman, 334-0477
Phikun's Thai Cuisine, 1020 S. Grand Ave., Pullman, 334-1060
Secret Thai, 218 Cedar St., Sandpoint, 208-263-9960