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May 17, 2008 05:10 PM

Dinner tonight Cyclo or Thai Elephant? (Phoenix)

I have yet to dine at cyclo and we live closer to thai elephant. Any suggestions?

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  1. Have never been to Thai Elephant. Live walking distance to Cyclo and dine quite frequently. We're never disappointed. Expect a wait if you go during prime hours and know there's really nowhere to wait but outside. Bring your own beer or wine. And be sure to order the green beans.

    1. Well, the two restaurants are about 20 miles apart. I'd let proximity play a major role in the decision. While I like both restaurants, I wouldn't drive 20 miles for either. There are just so many good southeast Asian restaurants around town, including over a dozen in the intervening distance between Chandler and Downtown Phoenix, that lengthy travel doesn't seem necessary for good meal of that type -- unless you are combining the meal with another errand or event that takes you to a particular part of town. If you live in Central Phoenix, though, keep in mind that Cyclo is rumored to be opening a second location on Central b/w Campbell and Camelback in the months to come.

      1 Reply
      1. re: silverbear

        what do you suggest Silvberbear? I think as of now we will go to thai elephant.

      2. Not been to Cyclo, but Thai Elephant is awful.

        18 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          Could you elaborate on this assessment? "Awful" is a powerful, but not terribly specific, word to use.

          1. re: hohokam

            Well, let's see.

            The panang shrimp tasted like Elmer's glue with food coloring, with the vegetables that accompanied the dish surprisingly undercooked, almost raw.

            The tom yum with chicken was utterly tasteless.

            The pad thai tasted like it was spiked with ketchup -- not a good thing. One cannot duplicate tamarind with substitute ingredients like vinegar or tomato paste. Use the real stuff, or don't serve the dish. McDonald's wouldn't serve a burger with Spam and call it a "Big Mac".

            The rice they serve is a travesty. More like gravel than a carbohydrate. I don't necessarily expect high-grade Jasmine rice from an Americanized, gentrified Thai restaurant, but something more than Uncle Ben's rejects is not too much to ask for.

            And, what in the world is a freaking egg roll served with every meal? This is supposed to be a Thai restaurant right? So why not a spring roll? To top it off the egg roll tasted of the frozen variety.

            The truly sad part is that this place takes up prime real estate in the Phoenix area that could (should?) be reserved for a much more deserving joint.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              Hmm. I've had the panang shrimp, and I tasted things like coconut and chilis i in it. Of course, maybe Elmer's has those qualities, too; I can't say since my glue-eating days have been few. My veggies were just fine.

              My rice has been properly cooked and appropriate in texture every time I've visited.

              The boundary between egg rolls and spring rolls is a fuzzy one, but I don't consider either item terribly authentic. They're Americanized crowd pleasers that are delicious if cooked right, and I enjoyed those at I had at Thai Elephant.

              I haven't tried the other dishes mentioned, but everything else I've eaten there has been good.

              Although I wouldn't drive 20 miles for Thai Elephant, I'll continue to eat there and recommend it to Downtown visitors and others within a reasonable radius.

              1. re: silverbear

                I ended up going to Chanpen Thai. I heard much about it on the board.

                It was my first visit and was very good. We ordered chix satay, angel wings for apps.

                Main dish: Garlic chix which i saw was suggested. It was good but would try something else next time.

                We aslos ordered Spicy Thai basil noodles with chix. VERY good. I enjoyed the food very much.

                1. re: drewb123

                  Nice! I really like Chanpen Thai too. We were just there Wednesday night for our second visit. I'll post a more detailed report later this week, but my husband liked the satay too (he commented that it the chicken was not dry at all as sometimes happens). For me, highlights were the chicken larb which I ordered "very very spicy" - and whew, they delivered - and a special on the board that night of fish with chilis and Thai basil (I was asked if I wanted it very spicy also, and I said yes). Wow. Thick chunks of lightly battered, perfectly cooked fish in a flavorful brown sauce with nice depth and heat, and garnished with crispy fried Thai basil leaves. Just delicious. Highly recommend.

                  I'll have to try the spicy Thai basil noodles next time!

              2. re: ipsedixit

                Thanks. I found myself having trouble squaring your consistently negative one-liners with silverbear's consistently positive remarks about Thai Elephant. I'm not sure I'm any closer to reconciling your respective opinions, but at least I have more insight into the comments you two have made about the place.

                1. re: hohokam

                  What really bothers me about Thai Elephant is that they don't even try to serve authentic Thai food.

                  In many ways, the restaurant has what I call "restaurant with a view syndrome". That is, it's location is so damn good, the kitchen gets lazy and knows that it can get away with serving mediocre glop.

                  During any weekday lunch hour, that place is mobbed as if they were handing out free gasoline coupons. So in many ways I don't blame them -- why improve when you don't have to.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    altho i share hohokams feelings about terse one line negative posts, if you've only been to thai elephant during lunch i can understand your trepidation. i've been for both lunch and dinner and there's literally no comparison. both visits for lunch for me were of the 'fair to decent' variety. subsequent visits for dinner made me wonder if i was at the same restaurant.

                    the quality of all of the appetizers and entree's we'd tried for lunch were totally eclipsed by their evening counterparts. its clear they a) don't have the same chef and b) are seriously catering to the speedy one hour lunch crowd. and c) there was no spring roll side served at dinner

                    i love thai food. and altho i have yet to visit the substantial list of places seth and his dad have tried, i still find myself longing for the davangs equivalent of thai food out here.

                    having said that, my favorite thai spot is osha thai. i only wish it were closer!

                    and personally, i would drive 20 minutes for cyclo. justina's going for a more cafe style upscale take, which i think is interesting. and those tamarind short ribs are out of this world.

                    1. re: winedubar

                      Funny you mention dinner because I have been there for dinner (albeit only once). And while the restaurant gives you more food than at lunch time, it is no better in terms of quality (or authenticity).

                      Interesting side note, while there during a late lunch when the masses of crowds weren't present (and when Yasda Bento next door was mysteriously closed), I asked one of the servers why the restaurant had only the typical Americanized, gentrified versions of Thai dishes (tom yum, satay, etc.) and none of the more authentic selections like Songkhla rice salad, kài bàan tôm khĩi-mîn, or plaa bawk tàet dìaw.

                      The explanation I got was that they feared there wouldn't be a demand for it. True enough perhaps, but I asked why the restaurant couldn't make the dishes that they were offering better. To me, the way the dishes were prepared was essentially using basic Chinese recipes and dressing them up with some fish sauce or some bland curry to make them appear Thai.

                      Sheepishly, the server admitted to it and said that there was no reason to change given the success of the restaurant. Doing it this way kept their costs low, and their margins high.

                      True enough and hard to argue with. After all, I'm sure Thai Elephant isn't out to win any James Beard awards, but rather to turn a tidy profit. And there's nothing wrong with that.

                      Given this, I still don't know if this was more an indictment of the restaurant, or the consuming public in Phoenix.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        interesting, altho it doesn't square with my experiences. both my lunch outings had smaller portions than dinner, and the flavor components were profoundly different, to the point that my dining companions and i both discussed the disparity.

                        i wouldn't go back for lunch, but i would happily return for dinner.

                        for sure - this is a reflection on the restaurant. its their call to turn and burn on a more pedestrian lunchtime fare.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Thai Elephant is the first Thai restaurant to open in Downtown in about 15 years. It's also one of the few Downtown restaurants south of Van Buren to stay open after dark. They've already taken enough risks; it's neither realistic nor reasonable to expect them to offer esoteric or regional Thai dishes. Instead, they serve a familiar menu with some Chinese influence -- just like dozens of similar Thai restaurants in strip malls around the metro area. Thai Elephant doesn't purport to be a foodie destination or the ultimate in Thai authenticity, but I find it quite good at what it does and that's enough to keep me coming. To continue to bash it as "awful" strikes me as highly inappropriate.

                          1. re: silverbear


                            Perhaps you are right that it is unrealistic for Thai Elephant to serve authentic Thai dishes, but I do not think it is unrealistic for them to serve good tasting unauthentic Thai dishes. They don't even do those very well.

                            (As an aside, nothing that I've mentioned is esoteric. Even if it were, there has to be one intrepid restauranteur to take the lead and introduce authentic dishes -- beyond the run-of-the-mill stuff -- to any one specific region so that the diners in that area can expand their horizons. Abalone and uni weren't really part of the sushi/sashimi vernacular in the past, but now they're de rigueur on most serious sushi menus. Why? Because people were willling to break from the mold from the basic tuna, salmon, yellowtail cuts.)

                            That said, I think we're going to have to just agree to disagree on Thai Elephant.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Abalone "... de rigueur on most serious sushi menus ..." Hah! Abalone is so scarce, hardly available beyond mid- to north-coast California, plus much of it is eaten on the spot, since divers are forbidden to have more than three in their posession at any time .. I remember 15-16 years ago when Ron Lou (C-Fu Gourmet) proudly offered me abalone for $90 and pointed out that Yamakasa next door was offering it for much more than that. If you think you've been eating abalone are you sure that it isn't actually ray wing, or maybe some really good squid? As for uni, it has been routinely available and widely consumed in neighborhood sushi bars throughout the greater Phoenix area and California since at least the 1980s. I've visited dozens of establishents many hundreds (well over a thousand, actually) times and never perceived uni as a rare commodity.

                              So, Ipsy -- where are you getting your abalone? How much do you pay? Is it from a can? I and many other lovers of fine food from the sea need to know.

                              1. re: misohungrychewlow

                                I believe I have seen abalone on the menu at Golden Buddha for around $30 a serving (no idea how much that is). Of course, I refuse to go back, so I can't confirm.

                                1. re: misohungrychewlow

                                  I've had abalone at various sushi joints and Chinese restaurants, but all in LA. R23, Nozawa, Asanebo, Nishimura, as well as Sea Harbour and Elite.

                                  I don't really trust many Chinese restaurants in Phoenix, C-Fu included, to provide anything authentic food-wise, much less something like abalone. Nee House is probably one of the few exceptions.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    Thanks for the tip(s). I hope to remember to bring the list the next time I'm over there looking for a good sushi feed.

                                    1. re: misohungrychewlow

                                      Two other sushi joints to add to the list if you're in LA: Sushi Zo and Kiriko.

                                      But honestly, just about any serious sushi place in LA will offer some sort of abalone dish -- either steamed or as sashimi.

                    2. re: ipsedixit

                      totally in agreement... and (my biggest pet peeve of all) they add lots of sugar to everything to make it more palatable

                2. Can someone post an info link for Thai Elephant? I haven't heard of it.

                  Although I will say that the midtown/downtown area seems to be chock full of Thai spots these days: Thai Hut, Wild Thaiger, Melrose Cafe(a new spot I caught on a drive by), Gourmet House of Hong Kong, Thai Elephant...

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: mamamia

                    linky link...

                    Thai Elephant Downtown Phoenix
                    20 W Adams St, Phoenix, AZ

                    1. re: mamamia

             the new Thai Basil at Park Central. It's owned by the same family as Thai Elephant with virtually the same menu. Maybe it will spark the same controversy.

                      1. re: mamamia


                        is that the place on 7th ave, over by qcumberz? i hadn't had time to drive by to confirm it was REALLY another midtown thai spot :)

                        1. re: winedubar

                          Yes, that's the one

                          I'm hoping the change in message on the sign doesn't point to an unclear vision. I drive by everyday on my way home - up until this week it was "Melrose Cafe - Thai". Then this week it changed to "Melrose Cafe - Asian Inspired...." Well, which is it?

                          There's been a recent run on Asian places in the area. Now we need decent Indian.

                          1. re: mamamia

                            well technically india is southeast asia :D

                            i'm so with you on that one ;)

                            1. re: mamamia

                              Went to Melrose Cafe on 7th Ave. last night.... closed.... already.... it's not been cleaned out (tables pushed up against a wall), so perhaps it will reopen, but doesn't look like anyone has been in there for a while.

                                1. re: Firenza00

                                  thats what i was thinking - 7th ave is my default to avoid central to get to lux, so i pass melrose cafe far too often due to my coffee addiction :D i've never seen it open.

                                  1. re: winedubar

                                    Tritto. I also pass it every time I go to Lux. :-)

                                    I was kind of waiting to see what the menu/concept was, and then I thought, "What the heck. I'll just give them a try once they open." But alas, I have yet to see any signs of life there.

                                2. re: girlgourmet

                                  UPDATE ON MELROSE CAFE: I drive by every day. This morning I happened to notice a change to the signage. It now says it's Italian/Pizzeria. I don't think it's open yet, though.

                                  New Owners?
                                  Same owners with a case of an identity crisis?