One of our favorite Madison restaurants, Sala Thai, has been operating in a quaint space on Fair Oaks Avenue for the past decade, and it continues to win praise for its savory recipes.
Serving deliciously authentic cuisine of Thailand, Sala Thai features a small, beautifully decorated dining room that feels as intimate as a friend’s kitchen.
Its tasty fare features lots of fresh vegetables simmering in aromatic sauces of curry and ginger. Most dishes come with a choice of chicken, pork, beef or tofu, and this kitchen’s tofu is so fine it might appeal to even the most diehard carnivore.
Sala Thai’s dining room is small, which means there is often a wait to be seated, and the restaurant does not take reservations except for groups of six or more.
The ornate room features intricately carved wood trim, a hardwood floor and a knotty pine ceiling. It is filled with framed Thai paintings and folk art, which combine with other decorative touches to create a celebratory feel.
And this food is worth celebrating, although it typically takes a while for it to arrive at the table. Despite the slightly slow delivery, service is friendly and professional.
The restaurant offers an extensive menu with appetizers, soups and salads, fried rice dishes, noodle and vegetarian options, Thai curry and stir fry dishes, seafood specialties, Laotian dishes and daily specials—all ranging from $10 to $15.
Sala Thai’s appetizers are excellent. From succulent pot stickers to meaty satay to satisfying curry puffs, all are enhanced by flavorful sauces.
Chicken satay ($11.50), marinated strips of char-grilled meat on wooden skewers, comes with a ginger-laced dipping sauce, while pot stickers ($3.50) are served with a terrific peanut sauce that complements pork and vegetable varieties alike.
The kitchen’s pork and veggie spring rolls ($4.50) are light and crispy, stuffed with egg, cucumber, bean sprouts and either tofu or Chinese sausage rolled in spring roll skin, and then topped with a sweet plum sauce. Fresh, flavorful and crunchy, these rolls are the perfect hot-weather appetizer—much more than the kitchen’s egg roll ($3.50), which is deep-fried with mushrooms and veggies.
Sala Thai’s curry dishes are a real treat. The yellow chicken curry ($11.50) features a chicken breast simmered in coconut milk with onions and potato, while the mus-sa mun ($11.50) keeps the coconut milk with onions and potato but replaces chicken with beef, cashews and a spicy tamarind-based curry.
The delightful gang ped ($11.50) comes with green or red curry and features Thai spices with bamboo, eggplant, carrots, green beans and basil. The kitchen’s squash curry ($11.50) is a combination of acorn and butternut squash, with eggplant, basil and red curry cooked in coconut milk. We loved this order with tofu, but you can get it with chicken or shrimp for $1.50 more.
Sala Thai’s version of pad Thai ($9.50 with tofu or chicken, $10.95 with shrimp) is also very good. It is a balanced mix of sweet, salty, spicy and sour, with tender rice noodles, pickled radish, soft curds of fried egg, crisp strands of bean sprouts and sturdy bits of tofu, all topped with chopped peanuts.
The kitchen’s rich coconut soup ($11.50)—with spices, mushrooms and choice of chicken or tofu—is a must. If seafood is your thing, be sure to check out the seafood curry ($14.95), a rich blend of shrimp, scallops, mussels, fish balls and squid with basil and red curry.
The restaurant carries a nice selection of local microbrews, along with imported Thai beers. If you prefer something sweeter, a glass of Thai iced tea ($4) is essentially dessert in a glass. The real dessert menu also includes sticky rice and mango drinks.
Sala Thai serves some of my favorite food in Madison. Its homey dining room and affordable prices only add to the appeal.
If you’re fond of the cuisines of Southeast Asia and haven’t experienced this little gem on the city’s east side, summer is as good a time as any to pay a visit.
Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.