You might assume that because of my unabashed online promotion of culinary adventures, I would be the classic prostheletizer seeking to convert to the joys of more adventurous dining all lost and wayward souls who frequent chain restaurants. Alas, when traveling with colleagues who are either pedestrian about their dining preferences (they eat to live) or are wholly resistant to trying anything new or different, I tend to defer to their lifestyle choices. It beats listening to comments such as “yech, how can you possibly eat that?” and “that’s not in any of the food groups I know.”
The offshoot is that I eat in more chain restaurants than you’ll ever hear me admit to (I don’t write about them for risk of being called a nattering nabob of negativism). By being able to compare and contrast restaurant chains with my beloved independently owned eateries, I’m able to derive a sense of perspective that hopefully makes any disparaging comments I may make about those chains more credible. At the very least, visiting chains heightens my appreciation for mom and pops all the more.
Traveling with colleagues to the Phoenix area has meant choking down chow at a lamentable litany of local losers such as Macayo’s (Mexican), Oregano’s (Italian) and Paradise Bakery (soups, salads and sandwiches) and national chains such as California Pizza Kitchen, Claim Jumper’s and Buca de Beppo. Now, my “open-mindedness” only goes so far and eventually my cravings for non-carbon copy food borders on rapacious. Fortunately I’m sometimes able to convince other like-minded weary travelers to try the local, non-chain fare. For more than ten years, that has often meant a visit to the Mint Thai Café in Gilbert, Arizona.
The Mint Thai Café is a proverbial parole from the mundanity of chains. Despite several ownership changes over the years, it has remained consistently good, the type of restaurant “Murphy” doesn’t visit when you’re trying to impress others. Among the reasons for its success is its authenticity. The Mint doesn’t take the type of liberties some so-called Thai restaurants take in creating a fusion of flavors from various Asian cultures. You can always count on authentic, home-style Thai food prepared to your exacting specifications for spiciness. It’s no wonder the Mint was named one of Arizona’s 101 best restaurants in 2007 and was named Arizona’s Best by the Arizona Republic.
The Mint Thai Cafe is the crown jewel of a nondescript strip mall just north of Gilbert’s Old Town district. Its timeworn pastel and evergreen interior might not be dressed to impress, but it will envelope you in the aroma of wonderful spices. Those aromas may render you weak in the knees with involuntary salivation almost assured. These sensations are heightened as you peruse the nearly 100-item menu with Thai treasures sure to please. Appetizers will confirm what your nostrils discern–that the Mint Thai Cafe can deliver on the promise of outstanding food.
The Sah-Tay, marinated chicken breasts barbecued on bamboo skewers served with toast and two sauces (peanut and cucumber) is a must have. This traditional Thai street food favorite features five skewers of grilled chicken breasts which have been marinated in a sauce of curry and spices. The chicken is moist and perfectly grilled. The cucumber sauce is fresh, tangy and sweet with a peanut influence that provides a nice contrast. The peanut sauce is thick and rich with a flavor profile that is savory, sweet and just slightly piquant. Both sauces complement the sah-tay very well. Another appetizer favorite is the Tod Mun Plar, deep fried fish-cakes mixed with curry paste and served with a cucumber salad tossed with chopped peanuts. Each of the six fish cakes per order is fork-tender and redolent with the flavor combination of curry and fish (not fishy).
The Mint’s nine curry dishes tend to have a siren’s call effect on me. Whether it be the alluring green curry (coconut milk, green peas, bamboo shoots and sweet basil), the mussaman curry (mildly spiced brown curry paste, coconut milk, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and peanuts) or a nightly special, they are pleasingly pungent and absolutely delicious without being cloying. One such special, a pumpkin curry is unique to the Mint Thai Cafe. Its base is the restaurant’s red curry, redolent with herbaceous and spicy qualities made rich and creamy with coconut milk. Marry the curry with pumpkin and you’ve got a wonderfully unique flavor combination you’ll dream about.
No Mint Thai Cafe specialty has infiltrated my dreams as much as the Mint Thai Coconut Ice Cream Pie, a homemade treasure so good it’s advisable to reserve a slice (or six) the minute you walk into the restaurant. Seriously, this is one outstanding pie, one of the very best you’ll find anywhere. It’s a relatively simple pie: a chocolate crust topped with a thick ice cream and toasted almond slivers. The coconut ice cream is sheer bliss, a coconut-infused slab of frozen goodness. The chocolate crust has hints of ginger, a favorite Thai spice.
The Mint Thai Cafe is one of my “go to” restaurants in the Phoenix area. It’s a restaurant which gives me hope that it’s possible to convert even the most staunch and stubborn of the chain gang. Every person to whom I’ve introduced this terrific restaurant has fallen in love with its outstanding culinary offerings.
Mint Thai Cafe
1111 N Gilbert Rd
LATEST VISIT: 15 May 2012
# OF VISITS: 8
BEST BET: Pumpkin Curry, Tod Mun, Mint Thai Coconut Ice Cream Pie, Satay, Mussaman Curry, Mangoes with Sticky Rice