Jacksonville has its fair share of Thai restaurants. Some are great, while some are just so-so. But there is a newcomer to the Jacksonville food scene that has caught the attention of Thai food enthusiasts in the area. Tamarind Thai opened up just a couple of months ago on Riverside Avenue in the space once occupied by Zoë’s Kitchen. The interior is a far cry from what it was during its Zoë’s Kitchen days. Gone are the modern plastic chairs and bright neon colors. Instead, Tamarind Thai is decked out in rich wood accents and Thai decor and has a much warmer, more intimate feel.
The service is equally as warm and inviting. We were greeted right away when we stopped in for dinner recently. Service was friendly, prompt, and attentive. We took a few minutes to look over the simple, clean menu and all its delicious-sounding offerings. The menu is well organized and laid out in a way that is easy to navigate. Often Thai eateries have so many options (noodles, rice, salads, curries, and on and on) that the menu ends up seeming cluttered and overwhelming. Since that is not the case with the menu at Tamarind Thai, we were able to zero in on our appetizer and entrée choices right away.
I started off with a refreshing Thai iced tea, one of my all-time favorite indulgences. Many places serve up Thai iced tea that is syrupy and way too sweet for my taste (and I am a southern girl who loves sweet tea, so that is saying something). I was happy to find that this Thai tea was creamy and not overly-sweet. For food, we went with the Tamarind Sampler ($14.95) which came with egg rolls, spring rolls, crab rangoon, and fried shrimp. The spring rolls were good, although were pretty standard as far as spring rolls go. The shrimp were about the same – standard fried shrimp. They were incredibly crispy, which was nice. But otherwise there was nothing too remarkable about them. The egg rolls and rangoons, however, were a bit more elevated than their typical counterparts. Both were seasoned well and fried to golden perfection. The crab rangoons were especially yummy, with their light, creamy filling and just a hint of curry seasoning. As a bonus (or maybe just an oversight), we also ended up with fried wontons on our appetizer platter, despite them not being included in the sampler on the menu. What a happy bonus – the fried wontons ended up being our favorite appetizer item. The crispy golden wonton skin held a warm filling of ground chicken, onions, and bits of sweet potato. The seasoning was perfect and everything together made for a wonderful combination of flavors.
After polishing off our appetizers, we moved on to entrées. My hubby chose the Two Friends Panang ($22.95) while I went with the Drunken Noodles with Chicken ($12.95). The smells coming from the kitchen were intoxicating, so we were excited when our food was brought over after only a short wait. Right away, we were impressed with the presentation of the Two Friends Panang. It was served in a copper bowl, kept warm by a flame in the base beneath. An adorable heart-shaped mound of jasmine rice accompanied the steaming pot of curry. The overall flavor of the curry was good – rich and creamy thanks to the panang spices and coconut milk, with just the right amount of heat. It was loaded with vegetables, chicken, and huge fresh shrimp. And although the shrimp was just the tiniest bit overcooked, the dish had a tasty and complex layering of Thai flavors. Plus it was a beautifully and uniquely presented, which made the higher price point feel a bit more reasonable.
My Drunken Noodles were also delicious, and came with a more wallet-friendly price tag. The rice noodles were perfectly cooked and smothered in a rich sweet and savory sauce that was accented nicely by the bright flavor of fresh Thai basil. Green beans, onions, bell peppers, and chunks of fresh tomatoes rounded out this hearty, satisfying dish. Drunken Noodles are a favorite dish of mine and there are a few places in town that do them very well. Add Tamarind Thai to that list – these Drunken Noodles held their own with the best of them.
On a whim, we decided to finish off our meal with an order of Thai donuts ($5.95 for eight). When you head out to Tamarind Thai, I would highly recommend that you also finish your meal with some Thai donuts. These little puffs of warm fried dough were simply amazing. The golden fried outside gave way to a soft, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth center. Add to that a light drizzle of a sweetened condensed milk sauce and each bite was just heavenly. My mouth is watering just thinking about those sweet little light-as-air puffs of deliciousness.
Overall our experience at Jacksonville’s newest Thai eatery was a good one. Based on the great service, the cozy atmosphere, and the delicious food, Tamarind Thai seems to be off to a great start and hopefully has a promising future on Riverside Avenue. While the prices may be a bit higher than some other Thai restaurants in town, the presentation, taste, and experience make it worth the cost. Tamarind Thai is definitely worth checking out if you’re ready for a change from your normal go-to Thai food routine or for those who are new to the cuisine and looking for a reliably good place to get their feet wet. Of all the places in town to get good Thai food, Tamarind Thai has already risen towards the top in such a short amount of time. You should stop in and taste why for yourself.
For this review we welcome a member of the JRR family: Rhonda Kovar grew up in the heart of North Carolina before moving to Florida after getting hitched in 2002. She is a graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne University and a lover of all things crafty, musical, or edible. Rhonda loves finding new and delicious ways to turn her two tiny picky eaters into future foodies. You can follow her on Instagram.