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Thai Cafe

Posted by JON 24 Dec 2009 20 Comments

When a friend from out of town offered to take me out for a belated birthday dinner I decided Thai food was the way to go.  Regarded by many to be the best Thai in Durham (rightly or wrongly), Thai Cafe isn’t exactly a well-kept secret.  I figured it was past time I took her to get her opinion.

Since she was paying, and I had a review to write, I decided to start with some appetizers first.

The Thai Cafe’s Basket is a tasty combination of chicken, shrimp, and corn.  I loved how each basket was a different shape.  The flavor was subtle, but yummy, with a sweetness that came mostly from the cucumber and sesame sauce.

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The veggie egg rolls were pretty standard fare, but crispy, hot, and good – exactly what you think you’re getting.  No complaints, certainly not for under $4.

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Appetite whetted, it was time for the entrees!  My companion and I agreed the best way to judge a Thai restaurant is by ordering basic dishes – on this trip, the Penang curry and Pad Thai.  Although tempted by the prospect of exploring how hot “Thai hot” really is (and appreciating it’s an option), we decided to save that for another trip.

Like the Thai Cafe Basket appetizer the The Pad Thai with pork was sweet, but not overly so.  The noodles were perfect and the sprouts fresh.  I know it’s a good sign when I have to make a conscious effort to not eat the whole serving despite the fact that my stomach is telling me it’s full.

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The Panang curry with chicken was outstanding.  With a rich sauce and good level of spice that complemented (versus overpowering) the tender chicken, it was simply delicious.

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The woman at the table next to ours had been more adventurous in her ordering.  Her Thai Cafe Crispy Catfish looked delicious and she described it as the thing she “orders every time”.  Having reestablished Thai Cafe’s credentials by sampling its more standard dishes, I pledged to try it on my next visit.  Soon.

Thai Cafe
2501 University Drive, Durham
Website
Open everyday for lunch and dinner
Lunch entrees $7.50-$8.50, Dinner entrees $10.95-$18.95

Reviewed 12.21.09.

20 Comments »

  • Ralph Haygood said:

    Among people I know, debate rages over whether Thai Cafe or Twisted Noodles is better. I like them both, for different things. At Thai Cafe, my single favorite thing is probably the duck penang. Perhaps surprisingly, the coconut cake is outstanding too. Spring rolls plus duck penang plus coconut cake is a perfect meal for me at Thai Cafe.

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  • Ralph Haygood said:

    And by the way, I agree with the woman who had the crispy catfish – it’s excellent.

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  • TSQ75 said:

    I have to say, I wasnt impressed by Twisted Noodle, but then again, it was only one visit. and they were incredibly busy and sat us next to the door on a cold night. with all the people coming in and out, we had to keep our coats on the whole time. Flavors were just ok.

    I’ve had at least 3 great meals at Thai Cafe, including Mussaman Curry, Green curry, and spicy basil. The satay is even great, the duck lettuce wraps, and Tom Ka soup…mmm

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  • burgeoningfoodie said:

    I have been to Thai Cafe once. Their location is great, but their menu and their food left a little to be desired. I’m not saying that they don’t make tasty food, but I’ve certainly had better elsewhere Twisted Noodle included (though they are not consistent). I wish we had a better offerings for Thai in the area or Asian in general in the area. Maybe there is more than I think is out there but it does seem somewhat small. I mean with chinese you have a few places if you know to order off the right menu. Japaneses is rarely there (not talking sushi and steak houses) unless you go to Kurama and order omakase which is expensive but a unique experience.

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  • aburtch said:

    Thai Cafe is hands down the best Thai place in the triangle! Nothing else comes close. The food is authentic and delicious. My favorites are: The basil rolls appetizer, Thai BBQ chicken, crispy catfish, and the coconut cake for desert. With the expanded dining room, it’s always a pleasure to eat there and the wait is never long.

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    pogo replies on December 28th, 2009 at 8:15 pm:

    Curious enthusiasm — saying “triangle” on Carpe Durham seems strange. Sawasadee in Raleigh is far and away the best Thai Restaurant around, and has maintained that position (see Greg Cox reviews) for years. So, ok, Thai Cafe is great for Durham (big deal, frankly), but it’s like saying India Palace is the best Indian food in the Triangle, and leaving out Morristown’s Saffron, or Cary’s Little India places (e.g. Udepi Cafe)because one never goes to Cary, or that Bullock’s or Dillard’s has the best bbq in the triangle because one never ventures to north Chapel Hill, or …

    And “authentic” is meaningless. McDonald’s is “authentic”, but would you send an Italian there for an authentic taste of America? Or are you just saying that there are no McNuggets on the Thai Cafe menu?

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  • JP said:

    My husband and I like Thai Lanna Restaurant on Hwy 55 in Durham over Thai Cafe and Twisted Noodle. We liked Twisted Noodle but it’s hard to get good service and the sanitation rating was in the 80′s last time we ate there.

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  • Sus said:

    I’m in the Twisted Noodle camp. The Tom Yom soup is always the test for me and the one I had at Thai Cafe just wasn’t any good. I may give the place another chance based on this review. I don’t find the Twisted Noodle service all that bad. We’ve been a bunch and get consistently decent service. Not hyper-friendly, but that’s okay. Their food tastes fresh to me and we keep going back. For those Asian-food lovers out there who want to try some good Vietnamese food – try Saigon Grill on Roxboro. If that place were around the corner from my house I would be living on Pho.

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  • Samantha E. said:

    Sawasdee is indeed the best Thai in the Triangle – no competition. It’s well worth a special trip to the wilds of Capitol Boulevard (as is the original Royal India location a bit further up the road, for the decor if nothing else). Thai Cafe is the best in Durham, and not bad at that, but it isn’t in the same league as Sawasdee.

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  • Durhamfoodie said:

    I am a huge fan of Thai Cafe and love their Spicy Beef Salad and Pad Thai w/ Shrimp. My favorite Thai restaurant in Durham though is Simply Thai, located at hwy 55 & Hwy 54 next to Big Lots. The Panang Curry is by far the best I have tasted anywhere. I am NOT a fan of Twisted Noodle and avoid the place at all costs.

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  • hh876 said:

    I read somewhere that Thai Cafe has a sushi bar. Is this true, or am I confusing my restaurants?

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    christy replies on February 3rd, 2010 at 10:37 pm:

    yes, there’s a sushi bar there now, though i haven’t tried it…

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  • burgeoningfoodie said:

    I have enjoyed Thai Lanna but they don’t mix the pepper into the food. Well, last time I was there they sprinkled it on top. My favorite Thai place in recent memory was Yum Yum in Cary on Harrison (since someone made a Triangle comment). I hear Thai Villa is good too but thats not in Durham either.

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    Tooth replies on January 4th, 2010 at 6:37 pm:

    Personally, I’m a big fan of both Twisted Noodles and Thai Cafe. The service at Twisted was pretty bad for a while after they first opened, but it seems that they really have it under control now. I think their immediate popularity might have caught them off guard service-wise. Anyway, the food has been pretty great at Twisted lately. The Tom Yum Chili Oil noodle soup tastes really good on a cold night. The main reason I find myself going to Thai Cafe lately is so I can sit at the bar and leisurely have a Carolina Pale Ale with my food. Plus, they really take you seriously when you order your food thai spicy.

    Oh, and for the record, here are the sanitation scores for Twisted Nooldes. The lowest score was 86.5 back in July 2009. Most recent score is 90:

    https://webapp.cdp-ky.com/NCENVPBL/ESTABLISHMENT/ShowESTABLISHMENTPage.aspx?ESTABLISHMENT=ID57102&esttst_cty=32&estab-id=57102

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  • Kaija said:

    I’m a big fan of Thai Cafe and have tried many of their menu items with no disappointments! It also has a surprisingly nice/comfortable/poshy without being pretentious interior, which one would not guess from the outside (sort of boring strip mall design). I’m curious to see the comments about Twisted Noodle and how the service has improved…I went there 3 different times in the last year and was beyond aggravated with the poor service, but maybe I’ll go back and give it another try.

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    Tooth replies on January 5th, 2010 at 2:06 pm:

    I’ve been to Twisted Noodles four times in just the last three weeks (one of which was a visit to their Chapel Hill store). The service was quick and attentive each time.

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  • MEZ said:

    Just tried the coconut cake here for the first time–one of the best coconut cakes I’ve had, for sure! They’ve got a fresh whipped cream on it that’s thicker than I can ever whip my own. Almost thought it was store bought, until I took a yummy bite. Definitely worth trying if you’re a coconut fan.

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  • MFH said:

    I used to prefer Twisted Noodle to Thai Cafe but went on New Year’s Eve and it was beyond abysmal. Noodles flooded in tasteless lake of sauce, chicken that was clearly reheated in microwave. I truly wonder if ownership had changed. Pretty lights had been taken down too. What gives?

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  • Outdoor Dining Spots | Carpe Durham said:

    [...] Thai Café, 2501 University Drive, Carpe Durham Review. [...]

  • The Gourmez » Blog Archive » Twisted Noodles–Durham Branch said:

    [...] Thai food, yet it’s taken me forever to try Twisted Noodles because I’ve been pretty happy with Thai Cafe in Rockwood and Thai Palace on Highway 54 in Chapel Hill. I finally made a point of it, and armed [...]

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