If you are looking for a simple, nondescript, affordable place that has good Thai food, head over to Saraya Thai in Burbank. Look closely because it's tucked in the corner of a strip mall, far from the trendier parts of town, making it a nice respite away from noise and crowds.
The menu offers a wide variety of traditional Thai selections, although you will notice some dishes such as kung pao and tempura that are more commonly associated with Chinese and Japanese dining. However, if you're looking to appease a group with differing tastes then this pan-Asian influence will easily satisfy a diverse crowd.
Our first appetizer was a spring roll ($5.50) that had cucumber, basil, noodles and baked tofu encased in a soft, thin rice noodle wrapping and came with a hoisen peanut sauce for dipping. The roll was very crunchy with the fresh vegetables, and the generous amount of basil gave it a strong whiff of earthiness.
For means of comparison to other Thai establishments we tried the chicken satay ($8.50 for six skewers) that was grilled, and served with raw red onion and cucumber on the side. The meat is covered in turmeric to give it a yellow coloring and spicy flavor. The chicken was cooked properly on the grill to retain some of its moisture and enhanced by the sweet peanut sauce. The trick may be to put enough sauce to accent the flavor and not smother it and I may have accomplished this feat. Their version passed the test.
Opting for something on the spicy side, we tried the tom yum chicken soup ($7.95 large), which is a hot and sour chicken soup with mushrooms, lemon grass and chili. It was not as spicy as the Chinese counterpart that most people are used to but was really delightful. The mushrooms were big and fresh and the flecks of chili powder balanced it very nicely. The portion was very large, and we kept nibbling at it throughout the meal.
Our first noodle dish was pad Thai — another standard — and we chose shrimp ($8.95) for our meat. For those not familiar with this staple, it contains flat noodles with egg, green onion, bean sprouts and crushed peanuts. The shrimp was tasty, but overall this dish was a little bland when compared with what we've tried elsewhere.
We were much happier with pad see-ew with beef ($7.95), a flat rice noodle stir-fried with egg, broccoli and a sweet soy sauce. This was quite delicious because the noodles were firm, the broccoli was crisp and the sauce had just the ideal amount of sweetness.
Our final dish was from their section of curries, and we chose panang with tofu ($7.25). This is peas and kaffir lime leaves bathed in red curry sauce with coconut milk. The tofu was firm and really absorbed the sauce nicely. It's hard to say if this is sweet or spicy because it straddles something in between. Pushing that dilemma aside, it was very good.
The service aspect was a bit inconsistent, which was strange since the place wasn't terribly busy. A few of our place settings lacked napkins, several of the dishes arrived at the table without serving utensils, and when we declined to order dessert or anything else, the check never came until I went to the counter to ask for it. But we were more than satisfied with the food and would have no qualms recommending it to our friends.
Infobox What: Saraya Thai CuisineWhere: 1439 W. Olive Ave., BurbankHours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through SaturdayPrices: Appetizers $5.50 to $9.95; soups and salads $4.95 to $12.95; entrees $7.25 to $16.95.Information: (818) 846-1244