Dining Out: Talay Thai is a versatile neighborhood pleasure

Extensive menu is worth exploring to find some gems

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Food & Dining

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Why: In its fifth year, Talay Thai is a popular restaurant for the neighborhood surrounding the Padden Market Center. The extensive menu offers a wide range of options for take-out or dining in. The restaurant also caters.

Atmosphere: The tidy, clean décor is unchanged since my last visit, which was shortly after the restaurant opened. Walls are painted in warm shades of rust and green, and windows and tables are dressed in richly blended fabrics. Thai-inspired décor awakens a sense of culture.

Although the space in the dining room is very open, every table has a welcoming feel. A large aquarium offers a point of interest for nearby tables.

What I tried: My dinner visit selections consisted of the crab puff appetizer; wonton soup with tofu; yellow curry with chicken; Talay fried rice with pork; Crying Tiger, flame-grilled beef with a savory spicy housemade sauce; pad Thai keemao, a variation of the noodle dish with a special sauce, fresh-ground chili, bell peppers, mushrooms, and basil added to the standard ingredients; orange chicken; and, for dessert, the mango with sticky rice.

Cream cheese characterized the crab puffs’ generous filling, and the sweet chili sauce served alongside for dipping made for a delicious combination.

The tofu pieces in the wonton soup were very large; the smallest were no less than an inch square and most were considerably bigger. The wontons were each filled with a ground pork and shrimp meatball that was unappetizingly hard and didn’t taste of shrimp at all — other than this, the soup was good.

Talay Thai’s yellow curry has potatoes, carrots, onions and meat in a curry sauce blended with coconut milk, which gives it a sweet character. Levels of spiciness may be requested for all dishes, according to preference. My dining companions and I opted to have it “as is.” Though it was void of spicy heat, it was tasty.

The signature fried rice included jasmine rice, egg, onions, peas, carrots, and meat topped with tomatoes and cucumbers. It was somewhat oily, with a strong soy flavor, and the pork was tender.

Least impressive was the Crying Tiger. Although the beef had an appetizing grilled flavor and was served on a bed of fresh iceberg lettuce, the dipping sauce that accompanied it seemed a mix of incompatible flavors, evoking Parmesan, ketchup and sweet chili.

After the crab puffs, our second-favorite dish was the pad Thai keemao. It was a delicious variation on pad Thai — less sweet than the traditional recipe with a wider variety of detectable flavors.

I found the orange chicken had a strong tangy citrus essence. It was good, but if you prefer this dish sweet, you may want to consider a different menu option.

Mango with sticky rice is a favorite Thai dessert of mine. Unfortunately, the mango I was served was extremely tart. Against the sweet rice with coconut, the mango’s tartness was particularly pungent.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: A combination platter of appetizers is available. The barbecue chicken, prepared by marinating chicken in Thai herbs and spices before flame-grilling, sounded intriguing. There are numerous curry options, from pumpkin curry to red curry and peanut sauce.

Other observations: My visit was on a weekend and although the dining room was only about half-full, the many take-out orders they were filling considerably lengthened the wait for both dine-in and take-out customers.

The service was friendly but seemed a bit disorganized — three different people waited on our table and delivered one menu selection twice.

We were first seated right next to the aquarium, which had an unpleasant algae sort of odor. We were reseated without question or attitude when I asked for a different table.

Cost: Appetizers are $4 to $10.95. Sides are $1.50 to $4. Lunch prices are $6.95 to $9.95. Dinner starts at $8.95 and tops out at $15.95. Desserts are $3 and $4.50. Beverages are $1.50 to $2.99.

Hours: Lunch is 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner is 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday, Talay Thai is open noon to 9:30 p.m.

Telephone: 360-604-0999.

Where: 13510 N.E. 84th St., Suite 101, Vancouver.

Online:http://talaythaicuisine.com.

Health score: Talay Thai received a score of 5 on March 4. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.