Looks can be deceiving. Especially at the dully-named-but-tasty Thailand Restaurant on S. Dale Mabry, SOG and just a couple of blocks from the base.
From the outside, the restaurant looks semi-abandoned with paint badly peeling (could this be the original coat of paint from when the place first opened in 1979?) and with letters missing from the sign on the restaurant's exterior. Inside, though, Thailand Restaurant is clean and surprisingly better decorated than many mid-priced Thai restaurants and the polar opposite of how the place looks outside.
We first tried Thailand Restaurant a few months ago, were pleasantly surprised by the food and service, and have been back several times since. On our most recent visit last Friday evening, we ordered the chicken satay, which are grilled chicken strips served with a peanut dipping sauce and freshly sliced cucumber, as our appetizer. For our main course, I ordered the panang curry with pork and Traci ordered the hot & spicy chicken. We asked for both dishes "Thai hot", which elicited a warning from our server, until we explained we love spicy food and that I grew up in New Orleans.
The satay was good, but not outstanding. My panang curry was tasty and Traci's hot & spicy chicken was a mix between being painfully and enjoyably spicy in a good way. On a previous visit, I enjoyed the pad thai with chicken. The Thai coconut soup was also good. We also tried the chicken curry puffs on a previous visit. They were interesting, but I wouldn't try them again. Overall, the food at Thai Restaurant has been good, the service is friendly and prompt and the atmosphere is pleasant.
The only other Thai restaurants in Tampa I've tried are Royal Palace Thai on SOHO and Thai Thani at Channelside. I enjoyed Royal Palace, but Thailand Restaurant is more convenient for us. Thai Thani seemed overpriced with mediocre food and service, which I guess is to be expected at Channelside. Thai Sweet Basil on Northdale sounds like a winner. For those of you in St. Pete, a good choice for lunch is 9 Bangkok Thai Restaurant on Central Ave. The place doesn't look like much on the outside, but has good lunch deals. Ratchada Thai Restaurant on First Ave N. is also pretty good.
I do have to ding Thailand Restaurant for a whopping 14 critical violations on its inspection last fall. These violations were all corrected on a follow-up visit. Good thing I don't check these beforehand.
So what's your favorite Thai restaurant in Tampa Bay?
Bottom-line: Ignore the bland name and the ramshackle exterior. The nearly 30 year old Thailand Restaurant turns out very good Thai food at reasonable prices in a surprisingly nice environment.
Inspection Scorecard: Last Inspection: October 2006 violations - Critical (14), Non-Critical (4).