[NOTE: Yupha's Thai Kitchen recently moved locations. You can now find them at 1805 East Elliot Road, Suite 115, Tempe, AZ 85284.]
Many years ago when I attended ASU, the best part of my experience was being able to find great, cheap ethnic food near campus along with some great dives. There were plenty of chains, but I always loved going to places like The Dash Inn or the original Vine. It was great fun and a big savings on the wallet.
But Tempe also housed plenty of more expensive restaurants. I don’t mean suit-and-tie type of places, but more of a good restaurant with a solid menu and comfortable surroundings. Unfortunately, most people see Tempe as just a college town and think that everything will be catering to college students.
Dad had another craving for Thai food and I was scrambling to find someplace new where we could try their take on various dishes. After looking at my options, I came across the name of a Thai restaurant I wasn’t familiar with and thought I would give it a go. Dad and I began our “Dining with Dad” adventure and he was very happy. He beamed when I promised that he could order the meal and try his hand at ordering a full meal for both of us.
We pulled up to Yupha’s Thai Kitchen, which was housed in a rather large strip mall along Elliot Road in Tempe. We pulled into the massive parking lot and walked up a very short flight of stairs to the entrance of the restaurant. We walked into to a subdued, but busy place. After being greeted and taken to a booth near the back, we were handed our menus and told our server would be right with us.
The menu was quite complex and I thought Dad was on the verge of asking for some assistance, but he reviewed the menu for a few minutes and said he had figured out what the entrees were. Our server arrived and took our drink order. Dad and I both had Iced Teas ($1.50 each). Our server asked if we were ready to order and I asked for a few minutes as Dad was pondering the appetizer section of the menu.
When our server returned with our drinks, Dad placed his selections. For our appetizers, we would have the Chicken Satay ($5.95) and the Little Mermaids ($6.95). Our entrees would be the Drunken Noodles ($8.95) and the Himalai ($11.95) which featured a mix of shrimp and chicken. After our server left, I told Dad that he had done a great job of ordering. The smile on his face was priceless.
While we waited for the appetizers, Dad noted how spotless the place was and that it was bright and cheery inside. Indeed it was as the large windows let the sun steam in and the large open dining room made one feel comfortable even though the place had quite a few tables. I also liked the little bits and pieces of Thai art that added a splash of color here and there.
There was a 10-minute or so wait before our first appetizer arrived. The Chicken Satay was four skewers of grilled, marinated white meat chicken. I liked the fact that the chicken was piping hot and the grill marks had left a nice amount of char on the meat to give it some flavor. We both loved the peanut sauce because it had a spicy edge to it which was welcome, but surprising. The cucumber chutney was also quite nice with a bit of heat from the peppers. The chicken was spot on due to its tenderness and the fact that it was very moist. If we did have one complaint, it would have been that we would have preferred more peanut sauce and cucumber chutney.
Dad had hit a big home run with the Little Mermaids. Large shrimp had been wrapped in bacon and then that was wrapped in a spring roll skin and deep fried. These were absolutely fantastic. The bacon was the star of the show, but the mix of pork and shrimp made this dish a winner. The sweet and sour sauce was a fine addition to the plate, but we thought this was a very unique appetizer and would go back in a heartbeat for a plate. Just stellar.
We had just polished off the last of the mermaids when our entrees started arriving. The Drunken Noodles were fragrant and looked divine. Chicken, flat noodles, napa cabbage, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, egg, Thai basil and chili peppers had been sauteed together to for a very complex and spicy dish. Dad and I were very happy that they didn’t scale back the heat on this dish. It didn’t hit us at first, but after a few bites, we were both trying to counter the sniffles. The rich dish was delicious. Everything worked together perfectly and I loved the addition of the scrambled egg to the dish. We both agreed that this dish was a success.
Dad had certainly done a great job in ordering. The Himalai was also welcome at our table with its mix of shrimp, chicken, cashews, onioins, mushrooms, celery, scallions, bell pepper and some Thai chilis that had been fried crisp before being added to the dish. Like the noodles, this had quite the kick but Dad and I were loving every bite. This dish was hearty and full of flavor. The cashews added a mild sweetness and crunch that we both enjoyed. The dark, pungent sauce in the dish was glossy and complemented both the meats and the vegetables.
After our meals, I admitted to Dad that I had initially thought the portions were on the meager side, but the richness of the dishes more than made up for any sense that the portion size was small. We were both very full and satisfied with what we had ordered. Still, it wasn’t difficult to convince Dad to try some of the Coconut Ice Cream (two orders at $3.50 each).
After placing our ice cream order, the frozen treat arrived within minutes. Digging in, I stopped to tell Dad that this version of the ice cream was on par with the rest of the meal in that it was quite rich. The cold dessert was dense, bursting with coconut flavor and a perfect way to soothe the tingling lips and tongues we had from our entrees. Dad especially liked the toasted coconut on top, which was a break from the traditional crushed peanuts.
We finished up every drop of the ice cream and asked our server for our bill. The total was $47.35 including tax. We thought this was a bargain for the quality of the food. Service was attentive and friendly and our iced tea glasses were kept full. As we were pulling out cash to pay the bill, the owner of Yupha’s approached our table to inquire if our meal met our expectations. We both told her that we were quite pleased and I thanked her for not dumbing down the spicy dishes. She was an incredibly gracious owner and host and I could tell she loved her restaurant and her staff. As we departed, the owner encouraged us to return and thanked us for our patronage. We left the building, got into the car and headed home.
Yupha’s was a great surprise and a wonderful restaurant with delicious food, attentive service and a gracious host. Dad had done a great job of picking our meals and he wore his success like a badge of honor.
Tempe is indeed a college town, but Yupha’s Thai Kitchen was a keeper.
I know Dad and I would not hesitate in coming back.
Yupha’s Thai Kitchen
1805 East Elliot Road
Tempe, AZ 85284
Hours: Monday to Thursday – 11 AM to 3 PM and 5 PM to 9 PM; Friday – 11 AM to 3 PM and 5 PM to 10 PM; Saturday – 5 PM to 10 PM; Closed Sundays.
Notes: On the northwest corner of Hardy and Elliot.