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Best Affordable and Authentic Thai Food

- Hye Sung

After I decided to move to Memphis, Tennessee, I was a bit worried about some of the move’s logistics and other technical details, but I had only one major fear: what if I can’t find good Thai food?


Let me just say that Thai food is important to me, and I think that is pretty understandable. Thai dishes are full of flavor. In one bite of red curry, your mouth experiences the glory of Thai basil, coconut, and chili pepper. Plus you’ll get to enjoy at least a half a dozen vegetables and perhaps some meat in this one dish. What is there NOT to love?

I think my opinion in this matter has become fairly normative in our generation. I have met many 20-somethings who will claim ‘Pad Thai’ as their favorite dish of all time, and when pondering where to eat with a group of friends, the closest Thai place is almost always named. Even in tiny Traverse City, Michigan, where I lived for six months in 2012, several restaurants have begun adopting more Thai dishes to their menu. In the past two years, even a few Thai restaurants/cafes have popped up in this northern Michigan vacation-center.

All that to say, my fear is warranted! What if I can’t find good Thai food?!

But alas, I have found good Thai food. And I was surprised that the prices were affordable–and not just that, but the food was authentic.

Usually to get decently-priced Thai food, I have to go to one of those Asian-fusion restaurants, which have a reputation of not being the most authentic. They either make [American] Chinese food with a little bit more coconut-flavoring (and a sushi bar), or they sloppily attempt to fuse Western and Eastern dishes. And the result is an affordable meal, but not always an enjoyable one.

But from time to time, I have found Thai restaurants that have managed to be both AUTHENTIC and AFFORDABLE. And what a blessing that has been! My top 3 favorite restaurants that fall into this category would have to be:

3) Thai Basil in Bartlett, Tennessee. This was the restaurant that soothed the fear that haunted me for months. They opened up towards the end of summer, almost simultaneous to my move to Memphis.

I loved their red curry and their Paid Thai, but what really stuck out to me was their spring rolls. Unlike egg rolls, these are not fried and include shrimp. I am usually not a huge fan of spring rolls, because they often lack flavor, but these are packed with herbs and vegetables and tastes incredibly fresh. These are the perfect appetizers.

The restaurant as a whole has incredible service. The servers seemed excited and the staff as a whole were very warm.

2) Brookside Thai in Bloomfield, NJ was my favorite restaurant growing up. The decor of the restaurant is awesome, with Thai art flooding the walls. It is a small restaurant and definitely a cozy atmosphere. But their food–it is excellent. They give you a lot for what you are paying, too. I got sticky rice with mango for dessert and I did not expect to get as much as I did. My plate was filled. I had to ask several friends to help me out.

My favorite dish of theirs is their Yum Ped salad. Usually when I order a salad, I am not exactly satisfied but this salad includes boneless crispy duck, lettuce, onion, bell pepper, fresh lemon grass, and Brooksides signature tamarind dressing.

Brookside Thai’s Yelp Page

1) Thai Express in Grand Rapids, Michigan was my life-blood in college. Some weeks, especially during finals, I would eat their 2-3 times a week. There was even a day where I had both lunch and dinner there.

The thing about Thai Express is that they are dedicated to three things: Family recipes. Quality ingredients. Flexible flavoring. They are serious about that, too.

The owner writes on their website: “I started the Thai Express Restaurant in 2007 after returning to Grand Rapids from an extended stay with my family in Bangkok, Thailand. I found that authentic Thai food was hard to find here. The few restaurants that served Thai were expensive or turned out inferior quality dishes. I wanted a place where traditional Thai food items could be had at an affordable price without sacrificing high quality.”

And she truly did create a place where delicious Thai food was “at an affordable place without sacrificing high quality”.

The restaurant as a whole has a very plain look–white walls with a few photographs and paintings–but the staff is incredibly welcoming and they love to talk. You can tell they genuinely love their job. The owner often comes out to talk to the tables, and she is also constantly laughing. I loved their curry, which had bamboo shoots (which I have been unable to find in a lot of red curries), but I like to think that I was there for more than their food. I went there because I knew I would see a genuine smile. I knew I would experience contagious joy.





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