As the longtime food critic for the Journal, Dennis Getto wields a lot of power over what restaurants thrive and what restaurants die. I was somewhat troubled when Getto gave Thai Tea in Oak Creek only 2 stars. I had eaten there a couple of times and I found the menu to have some excellent dishes and the service to be attentive and friendly. I have probably eaten there six times since it opened and each time I have left extremely satisfied. However it seems that this gem has either not been discovered by the masses or Getto’s review is steering people away and I fear that a great independent restaurant may not survive unless word gets out about how good this place is.
The menu is primarily Thai with American, Chinese, Laotian and Vietnamese specialties thrown in. There is truly something for everyone. The appetizers I sampled (egg rolls, spring rolls, and variety kebabs) were all good. My favorite were the variety kabobs which included 3 kebabs of zuchinni, mushrooms, and shrimp coated in a light tempura batter with a side of a sweet and tangy sauce for dipping.
One of the standout entreesis their “Famous Pho.” For those who do not know, Pho is an awesome Vietnamese soup with an incredible depth of flavor. It usually features Vietnamese meatballs, flank steak, tripe, tendon, seafood, or whatever else the chef wants in there. Thai Tea’s version leans to more suburban-diner accepted animal parts. It’s loaded with shrimp, squid, meatballs, and and beef strips with no tendon or tripe. It is served with some Thai Basil and bean sprouts as well as a a bunch of accouterments to mix in to tailor the pho to your tastes. I love adding a bunch of fresh jalapenos which slowly release their heat into the broth. By the time you are near the bottom the broth is very spicy. The bowl is huge and you will likely have leftovers to take home. Though the Pho at Thai Tea is very good (and well-suited for suburban customers), it doesn’t reach the level of the Pho at Tru Trinh at 2344 S. 27th Street.
Another great dish (and my favorite) is the Yum Nuea which is a Thai beef salad. I first had a Thai Beef salad in Vegas about 5 years ago and it was love at first bite. The cold noodle salad explodes with the fresh flavor of lime, basil, and lemongrass and heat provided by chili peppers. Though it is spicy the fresh vegetables and lime juice help to cool the heat. Be careful about the level of heat you ask for (1-5). I had a 3 and it was very spicy. A 4 or 5 may be too spicy for most palates so try that heat level at your own risk.
Thai restaurants specialize in curries and Thai Tea is no exception. The standout dish is the Kang Phet which is a red coconut curry with mushrooms, bamboo shoots and Thai basil. I think that coconut based curries and bamboo shoots are one of the best flavor combinations out there (like peanut butter and chocolate and gin and tonic) and this dish demonstrates why. They offer it with your choice of meat, but I think that nothing works as well with the flavors in this dish like chicken. The dish is also spicy, but not overwhelming. The coconut milk balances the heat with a bit of sweetness. They also offer a shrimp curry that adds pineapple to the mix. Another Thai staple is Pad Thai and Thai Tea does an admirable job with this dish as well. It is made with rice noodles mixed with your choice of meat (again I think chicken works best in this dish), bean sprouts and chopped peanuts with a squeeze of fresh lime and provides a nice entry to Thai cuisine for the picky eater or person who has never tried Thai food. The less-adventurous may also enjoy Volcano Chicken, which is essentially the Thai version of sweet and sour chicken. Here it is served with an abundance of lightly battered chicken and sweet and sour sauce. Its not my cup of tea, but is still quite tasty. Speaking of cup of tea, they offer complimentary hot tea with your meal or you can try their namesake drink and for those who have never had Thai Tea, it is an iced tea with cream in it and it is slightly sweet and creamy. They also offer bubble tea, which is a blended tea with black tapioca balls and a monster-sized straw to suck them up. Try the avocado, its actually quite tasty and refreshing.
Is it the best Thai restaurant in the area, probably not, but it is quite good and in a City like Oak Creek where the dining options skew towards the lowest common denominator, its definitely worth a visit.
Thai Tea is located at 8701 S. Howell Avenue in Oak Creek. The sign is tiny so look for the North Shore Bank building (the SW corner of Howell and Puetz). If you make it to Target you have missed it. (Phone: 414-570-1400) They can be found on the web at: http://thaiteacuisine.com/