Soothing Thai music filled the open and dimly lit restaurant space at Narai Thai. Despite the dinner rush on a Friday night, I was sat almost immediately at a cozy corner booth under a yellow lantern. Positioned at the back of the room, the table sat open to the rest of the restaurant space—an intimate room decorated with art, lanterns, and statues from Thailand. White napkins were in front of each seat at every table, folded individually and intentionally, a kind of decoration themselves. A large mirror stood in the center at the back of the room, reflecting the light from the red and yellow lanterns throughout the space.
The decoration and atmosphere, however, were not the only elements of the restaurant that allowed it to feel authentically Thai. Many Asian restaurants in Colorado Springs serve Thai cuisine alongside Japanese, Chinese, and Indian food rather than focusing on exclusively Thai food. These restaurants often tend to blend many Asian cuisines, lacking a sense of authenticity. Narai Thai, however, is owned by a Thai woman named Jasmine, who has designed a menu of purely home-cooked Thai recipes.
Jasmine grew up in Chiangmai, a city in the mountainous region of Northern Thailand, and comes from a family with experienced culinary background. She married a man from the U.S. Air Force, moved to Colorado Springs, and opened the original Narai Thai in 2008. The restaurant saw such success that she opened another location in the Broadmoor/Cheyenne Mountain area in 2014. “That was probably the best Thai food I’ve ever had,” said former CC student Emy Pye.
The essential element at the very core of most Thai dishes is the spice, and traditionally, the spicier the better. At other Asian cuisine restaurants in Colorado Springs, food labeled “hot” often arrives with little sting to the tongue—in order to be served real spice, one has to be forceful about it. Almost all dishes at Narai Thai come with a spice scale option ranging from No spice (or mild), to “Thai Spice,” which will guarantee a red face and teary eyes. Dried or fresh coriander, Thai chili powder, galangal, green peppercorns, lemongrass, turmeric, and Kaffir lime leaves are all unique to Thai flavor. Despite their specificity, all these spices (along with all other food and ingredients that make up the menu at Narai Thai) are sourced locally in Colorado Springs and Denver. “It is one of the better pad thai’s I’ve had, and must say I was surprised to find it in Colorado Springs. Umami overload,” said Charles Meyer ’19.
The menu holds a wide variety of options, from appetizers and soups and salads, to Thai curries, Thai stir-fry, seafood, noodles, Thai fried rice, and dessert. Appetizers include dishes such as spring rolls, satay skewers, and a crunchy Kabocha squash tempura that comes with a traditional sweet chili sauce that I have yet to taste at any other Asian cuisine location. The pineapple yellow curry fills a giant bowl and is served with rice on the side. The pineapple is slightly cooked and warm, giving a sweetness to the curry among the strong spice—the kind that makes your nose water and face turn a little red.
It is not only the curry dishes that are served in such generous quantity. The pad thai comes on a large plate that could fill three empty stomachs. Most dishes come with both meat and vegetarian options, with the choice of chicken, beef, tofu, or shrimp. All cost just around $12, with guaranteed leftovers which promise more than one meal for the price. “It was so good that I couldn’t stop eating, even though I knew I had to,” said Cassidy Lam ’19.
The drink selection at Narai Thai adds an entertaining element to the meal with cocktails like Mai Tais and Thai beers, such as Sapporo and Chang, which are difficult to find elsewhere.
Narai Thai promises an authentic Thai dining experience both in the restaurant and in the comfort of customers’ own homes. With an easy and efficient take-out service, as well as the guaranteed leftovers, it is easy to take Narai Thai home and enjoy it for lunch or dinner the following day.
The service was attentive and efficient, leaving comfortable time between drinks, appetizers, main courses, and the check—which allowed customers to digest the large amounts of delicious food before leaving the comfortable atmosphere of the restaurant. In Thai language, Narai is a word associated with royalty, and a royal quality and legitimacy is exactly that which describes the standard of dining at Narai Thai.