Some Like It Hot
Dara Thai Café spices up Anthem’s culinary scene with authentic flavor
Story and Photos by Madison Rutherford
If you ask me about some of the more memorable Thai dishes I’ve consumed in the last decade, a few key culinary experiences come to mind, chiefly sitting cross-legged on a beach in Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand while devouring creamy kaeng khiao wan over a fluffy foundation of jasmine rice, or squeezing into a small booth in a clamorous two-story restaurant in San Francisco while towering trays packed with tom yum and Thai iced tea whiz past.
Sauntering into a small restaurant in a strip mall next to a Safeway in Anthem sounds like it would pale in comparison. Unassuming is an understatement.
It’s safe to say Anthem isn’t exactly renowned for its unique culinary offerings. There is a dearth of authentic ethnic restaurants within the confines of the small suburban community. Thai restaurants are especially scarce. However, Dara has been going strong for nearly a decade, despite the fact that many Anthem residents don’t even know it’s there.
A procession of wooden elephants marches across a low wall in the middle of the restaurant, dividing it into two sections. Low-hanging lights hover above each small table and Southeast Asian art lines the walls. The décor is predictable but when it comes to good Thai food, I tend to care less about the look and feel of the place and more about the flavors of the food. Dara definitely doesn’t disappoint in that category.
The menu is more like a small novel. In it, you’ll find an extensive selection of appetizers, soups, salads, curries, rice, noodles, seafood and vegetarian options. For starters, try the fried veggie egg rolls ($3.50), which feature noodles, carrots and cabbage wrapped in a flaky bronze crust. The cheese wontons ($4.95) are a crunchy cushion filled with crab and cream cheese. For a sweet reprieve from the other savory starters, try the “Golden Banana” ($4.95), six banana slices dipped in tempura batter, deep-fried to gilded perfection and served with a syrupy honey sauce for dipping.
For the main dish, meat-lovers will savor the Thai Suki, a flavorful medley of stir-fried shrimp, beef, chicken, transparent noodles, vegetables and egg marinated in a mild sauce. The menu allows diners to substitute or add chicken, pork, beef or shrimp to any dish, or forego meat altogether; Dara also boasts an array of bright and flavorful tofu entrees and traditional dishes like Pad Thai, Pad See Ew and drunken noodles. Patrons can pick their level of spiciness on a five-point heat scale, but the spice level truly depends on the dish and the individual’s personal standards. I asked for a 3.5 and thought my dish could use way more kick, while my dining partner’s three made his eyes water.
Of course, a Thai restaurant is nothing without its coterie of multi-colored curries, and Dara has a robust assortment. The Gaeng Kari is a popular choice, which features chicken, potatoes, onions, carrots and bell peppers shrouded in yellow curry paste and a coconut milk sauce. It’s also served with a heaping bowl of white rice. There’s nothing worse than a runny curry with poorly cooked veggies, but Dara’s has a thick and creamy consistency and the vegetables add both taste and texture. Be prepared for generous portions that are perfect for sharing or plan for leftovers, and if you don’t want them to skimp on the spice, ask for a four or five. It’s not quite kaeng khiao wan on the beach, but it’s pretty darn close.
Dara Thai Cafe
3655 W/ Anthem Way, Suite B-127
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