’m not a fan of strip-mall restaurants. They always seem a little sad and rarely have charm. Zab Thai has made me reevaluate my opinion, however. Once you walk in the front door and are saturated in amazing aromas, you forget that on one side of the restaurant is a Pilates studio, and on the other is a Great Clips. Instead, you start looking around at everyone else’s plates to see what they’ve ordered to make the place smell so darned good.
Beluga’s closing was a hard hit for Hyde Park, but thankfully its chef, Toon Yongkanaysin, and the former co-owner of Beluga, Cindy Yantarasri, have come together to create Zab Thai. “Zab” in Thai means “delicious, spicy, hot,” and Zab Thai has all three in spades. A point is made on the menu to let customers know that the kitchen is absolutely willing to work with those who have food allergies or intolerances. It’s refreshing to see a restaurant wanting to take care of those guests who need it, rather than the contempt from the waitstaff or kitchen one sees far too often.
I knew if the food was half as vibrant as the colors and artwork on the walls, I’d be very happy, indeed. A small foyer has been built at the entrance, giving the restaurant some needed architectural appeal. The tables and chairs are all done in blacks, and the walls are warm oranges and browns. Massive close-ups of flowers adorn the walls, and the entire restaurant feels much more upscale than a strip mall would suggest.
As my husband and I perused the menu, I saw items I hadn’t seen offered in other Thai establishments, like basil fried rice and rice clay pot, and we discussed at length what to order. We settled on two appetizers to start, Tod Man Goong (shrimp cakes, $5) and Kai Satay (chicken satay, $4). The satay was grilled to perfection and was served with the standard peanut sauce and pickled vegetables. The pickles were stunning; spicy and slightly sweet with a terrific crunch. The shrimp cakes were breaded with panko bread crumbs and were impossibly crispy and light, and the cucumber sweet and sour sauce that accompanies them disappeared rather quickly. Zab Thai offers a large selection of appetizers, soups and salads, among them a blue ginger and coconut cream soup ($4) that I can’t wait to try.
As much as I like sushi, it was refreshing to find a Thai restaurant that focuses only on Thai food; there is no sushi on offer at Zab Thai. They don’t need it, for one thing, and by not offering it, they can continue to concentrate on delivering high-quality Thai food. After vacillating between the Kao mok kai (chicken and saffron rice, $12) and the Pah lho (braised five-spice pork, $12), I decided on the Kao mok kai. The chicken and rice dish is similar to Indian biryani, with a sauce that includes turmeric and cardamom. Where it differs from biryani is the super-spicy jalapeno-cilantro-garlic sauce that comes on the side. It was absolutely delicious.
My husband chose Kaeng karee (yellow curry, $9 or $12, depending on protein choice) with tofu. The yellow coconut sauce was redolent with curry and not at all spicy, and the tofu cubes were perfectly seared. There is a plethora of noodle dishes, stir-fries and specialties on Zab Thai’s menu; enough to satisfy anyone.
We left Zab Thai comfortably stuffed and discussing what we would order the next time we go in. Chef Yongkanaysin was known for her incredible desserts at Beluga. I can only hope that she will decide to add a dessert menu to Zab Thai at some point in the future. Zab Thai currently does not have a liquor license (though that is in the works), but customers are free to bring in their own wine and beer and are not charged a corkage fee. Bring along an appetite as well. You’ll need it.
Go: 10667 Loveland-Madeira Road, Loveland
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner: 5-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; and 5-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday
Entrée Prices: $9-$15
Red Meat Alternatives: Many, including vegan