Simply Thai on the corner of Eagle Canyon Drive and Pyramid Way in Spanish Springs has the dynamic flavors and heat I enjoy in Thai food. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this culinary powerhouse lives in a strip mall. Look for the banner behind the restaurant as you travel north on Pyramid to spot it.
I spoke with the owners, Sai and Kai Hlape, about how they operate their restaurant. Kai advised that she purchases made-to-order curry pastes for the restaurant from a Korean market on Rock Blvd. I didn’t want to press Kai, but I suspect that the market in question is Yim’s Asian Supermarket. Pretty much everything at Yim’s is amazing.
I asked Kai if her dishes hail from a specific region in Thailand. She advised that she and her husband do not focus on any one region. They picked out their favorites from all over Thailand. Kai was born in Nakhon Si Thammarat, but grew up in Surat Thani. Both cities are in southern Thailand. She pointed out both cities on a map in the rear of the restaurant. She ventured north to Bangkok to achieve her business degree.
Given Kai’s interest in business, I was curious what motivated her to get into cooking and restaurants. “People really like eating Thai food,” she said with a smile. That’s some business savvy if I ever heard it.
Every Thai restaurant I’ve been to seems to have a distinct scale for the heat of the food. This poses a challenge for first-time diners who seek the exact right heat level in their food. Simply put, a 1-5 heat scale doesn’t say much without points of reference.
Contributing to the confusion is the use of three words synonymously: heat, hot, and spicy. According to food science – yes, it’s real – heat should be used to describe Scoville Heat Units, or SHU, in a food. SHU measures the amount of capsaicin in a food, and capsaicin is the primary compound that gives food its kick. Hot should be used to denote the temperature of a food. Spicy should be used to denote a food containing or composed of many spices – especially fragrant spices.
If you really want to put a linguistic whammy on the old thinker, it’s not uncommon for something like curry to have high heat, be served at a hot temperature, and have a spicy flavor profile including spices like coriander, galangal, red pepper, cumin, etc. Does this explanation go too deep down the rabbit hole? Maybe it does, but cut me a break. I’m an English major who used to work at a spice manufacturer.
Getting back to Simply Thai and their distinct heat scale, I enjoyed the wide range of heat that they offer. I ordered my food with heat at Level 3. I love high heat food, and Level 3 delivered a mild sweat. Next time, I will order Level 4 for a hearty sweat. Following is how I would associate Simply Thai’s heat scale with well-known chilies. Every chili falls within an SHU range, but I omitted the ranges for brevity’s sake.
- Level 1 = Bell Pepper (0 SHU)
- Level 2 = Jalapeño (9,000 SHU)
- Level 3 = Red Pepper (30,000 SHU)
- Level 4 = Thai Chili (60,000 SHU)
- Level 5 = Habanero (100,000 SHU)
Simply Thai adjusts the heat of every dish to your preference by increasing or decreasing the quantity of fresh Thai chilies, rather than changing up the type of chili. If your palate does not tolerate any heat, just let the staff know and they will accommodate you.
I ordered a Thai Iced Tea for $3.00, the Green Curry Lunch Special with chicken for $8.95 (served noon to 3 p.m.), and the Beef Salad for $9.95.
The tea was on point with strong brewed black tea and dollop of sweetened condensed milk. I appreciated that they served it in a tall glass – unstirred.
The curry included tender chicken pieces, green Thai chili paste, green beans, fancily-cut zucchini, carrots, bell pepper, and basil all awash in creamy coconut milk. The curry was sweet with creeping heat and a touch of salt. The dish was served with steamed jasmine rice, a cabbage and glass noodle eggroll, a garden salad with peanut dressing, and a cup of simple but delicious vegetable soup.
The eggroll had a nice crisp, but its flavor paled in comparison to the curry.
I had not previously seen a garden salad served in a Thai restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the fresh romaine beneath the sweet peanut dressing.
The Beef Salad had all the vibrant color and flavor I seek in Thai food. The dish included tender grilled beef, red onion, lemongrass, mint, celery, green onion, cucumber, and cilantro atop romaine hearts. The meat and produce was marinated in lime juice, fish sauce, fresh Thai chilies, and a bit of sugar. My mouth was alive with funky sweetness, citrus, umami, and ample heat.
Simply Thai is located at 15 Eagle Canyon Dr. in Sparks. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday. They are closed Mondays. Call 775-425-5000 for take-out orders. Visit Simply Thai online at simplythai.net.