Royal Palace is a go-to spot, not only for its terrific authentic cuisine and sophisticated atmosphere, but because it’s tucked amid the cluster of businesses located on the favored mile of Howard Avenue that draws much of the South Tampa lunchtime crowds and post-happy hour foot traffic. But there are dozens of other Thai restaurants scattered all over the Bay area, and each has its devotees. Here are some of our favorites.
9 Bangkok. A St. Petersburg staple that offers casual yet elegant Thai ambience hidden behind a humble Central Avenue exterior. The menu boasts good sushi and excellent house dishes that include a delicate green curry with fresh basil, green mixed veggies and your choice of meat (or tofu, or none); the special roast duck red durry (pictured below, lightly fried duck with green and red grapes, cherry tomatoes and pineapple in a mild red curry sauce — look for this on Saturdays); pad Thai; shrimp and crabmeat fried rice; and some of the best crab rangoon you’ll find in town outside of Royal Palace. 571 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-894-5990.
Rouen Thai. South Tampa folks swear by the Rouen, which features a warm and friendly staff, lushly decorated interior — dark wood walls, intricate gold-textured embellishments, Thai statues — and a wide-ranging menu of Thai specialties that run on the hot side. Try the Chicken Prig King, Amazing Eggplant (add tofu), and the Angel Wings (chicken wings stuffed with pork). Sit at one of the sunken dining areas for a more authentic dining experience. 3324 W. Gandy Blvd., Tampa, 813-837-9100, rouenthai.com.
Siam Garden. Serving St. Petersburg for upward of two decades with gracious hospitality and prompt service. The sign boasts “Bring your catch, We will cook it!” — and the sizzling red curry snapper shows just what they are capable of, the entire fish fried crispy, doused in veggies and a coconut milk curry sauce, and served hissing hot. Also try any of the sizzling duckling entrees, the pra ram, and the mango and sticky rice to hit that end-of-meal sweet spot. 3125 Dr. Martin Luther King Junior St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-822-0613, www.siamgardenthai.com.
Thai Sweet Basil. Located in one of the many Carrollwood strip malls off Dale Mabry, Thai Sweet Basil is a casual place with extremely reasonable ($6.95 and $7.95) lunch specials that include an entrée with two mini spring rolls, a soup or ginger salad, and your choice of protein, tofu or simply veggies. Try the Thai Sweet Basil noodles, the pad Thai, or delicate house beef Panang. We also like the lightly sweet pineapple rried rice and the fancy Thai iced tea, served with crushed ice, intricately wrapped straw and a dollop of whipped cream on top. 3875 Northdale Blvd., Tampa, 813-961-8898, mythaisweetbasil.com.
Also try… Lemon Grass Thai Kitchen (3635 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 813-514-4349, lemongrassbestthai.biz); Queen and I Thai and Sushi (2410 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-954-3926, queenandithairestaurant.com); Thai Am II (13037 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach, 727-398-9700, thaiam2.com); The Thai Coconut (1280 S. Missouri Ave., Clearwater, 727-441-1650, thethaicoconut.com); Thai Island (210 E. Davis Blvd., Tampa, 813-251-9111).