10 must-try Thai curry dishes

Originating in the Bangkok region of Thailand, Thai curry options are abundant in Tucson.

Tucson is home to a number of fabulous Thai restaurants offering a variety of delicious foods.

Whether you enjoy your Thai food hot or mild, there’s something for everyone – even when it comes to Thai curry.

What makes a dish a curry?

It all starts with curry paste – a dry mixture of ingredients unique to each type of curry dish, such as garlic, onions, chilies, lemongrass, galangal, coriander, turmeric, pepper, cardamom, cumin, dried fish and fingerroot, ground together traditionally with a mortar and pestle (or, nontraditionally, with a food processor).

The curry paste is stir-fried in oil before preparing the dish.

Finally, the chef adds coconut milk or water, herbs and an assortment of meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu and sometimes fruit.

Popular curries on most local menus include Green, Red, Yellow, Panang (red curry with peanuts), and Massaman (brown curry with peanuts).

With the exception of a few restaurants, each establishment listed below offers the first four varieties.

Helpful reminders when ordering

Some restaurants will allow you to customize your meat and curry combinations, but if you’re new to savoring this culinary delight, remember this rule of thumb: green and yellow curries are typically offered with shrimp, chicken or in vegetarian style, while red and brown curries are typically prepared with beef, pork, chicken, duck or seafood.

We set out to visit Thai-exclusive restaurants in the Tucson metro area to find the area’s most noteworthy curry gems from the land of Siam. Here’s a list of our favorites.

Senae Thai Bistro

63 E. Congress St.
Gaeng Pa at Senae Thai Bistro (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Gaeng Pa at Senae Thai Bistro (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Elegant downtown Thai joint Senae Thai Bistro offers green, yellow, red, Panang, and Massaman curries.

For a seafood feast, order the red curry-seasoned Gaeng Bpá with shrimp, calamari, cod, scallops, fresh mussels (when available), Thai eggplant, long beans, baby corn, fresh Thai basil, young peppercorn, chili, and garlic.

For more information, visit senaethai.com.

4 Seasons Restaurant

1423 W. Miracle Mile
Top of Siam at 4 Seasons Restaurant (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Top of Siam at 4 Seasons Restaurant (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

There are six curry options at 4 Seasons Restaurant — red, yellow, green, Panang, Mussaman, and Top of Siam.

Top of Siam — 4 Seasons’ signature curry base incorporated with chicken, shrimp, carrots, onion, pineapple, bell pepper, and basil — offers a variety of flavors to satisfy the taste buds. The shrimp is cooked [perfectly], providing a tender, almost melt-in-your-mouth bite. [The dish] is on the spicier side,” so if you have a milder palate, try the Panang Curry.

For more information, visit 4seasonsaz.com.

Karuna’s Thai Plate

1917 E. Grant Rd.
Gang Garee at Karuna's Thai Plate

Gang Garee at Karuna’s Thai Plate (Credit: Mark Navarro)

Karuna’s offers eight different curries, four of which are or can be prepared vegetarian.

A well-known spot for a Thai lunch buffet, check out the Gang Garee — a yellow curry with chicken, beef, pork or shrimp, prepared spicy. A savory, thin-sauced curry with tender chicken, Karuna’s Gang Garee is some of the best yellow curry in town. Also worth checking out is the Duck Curry and a Gang Massaman.

Vegetarians, try the Panang Curry with Straw Mushrooms and Tofu.

For more information, visit Karuna’s Thai Plate on Yelp.

Bangkok Café

2511 E. Speedway
Kang Kua Sap-pa-Rod Koong (Red Curry with Duck) at Bangkok Cafe

Kang Kua Sap-pa-Rod Koong (Red Curry with Duck) at Bangkok Cafe (Credit: Mark Navarro)

With eight varieties to choose from, Bangkok Café captures the senses in more ways than one.

With an atmosphere that accommodates business lunch, casual dining, and date night alike, Bangkok Café offers a contemporary Thai foodie experience to suit a variety of social needs.

Behold Kang Kua Sap-pa-Rod Koong (Red Curry with Duck). Served with pineapple, it’s a sweet and spicy delight. Not to be outdone by the Kang Massaman, a smooth brown curry with chicken, onions, potatoes, and peanuts. Served medium or spicy, it’s like a Thai chicken dish for the soul.

For more information, visit bangkokcafe.net.

Char’s Thai Restaurant

5039 E. Fifth St.
Green Curry with Beef at Char's Thai

Green Curry with Beef at Char’s Thai (Credit: Mark Navarro)

Serving Tucson for more than 28 years, Char’s Thai is Tucson’s first and oldest Thai restaurant. While the ambiance was updated in the last few years, the menu remains tried and true.

Char’s offers four classic curries: yellow, red, Panang and green, with your choice of chicken, beef, pork or shrimp. For special holidays, the restaurant is adorned with decorations and offerings to Buddha. How authentic, to have the opportunity to eat beside a party of monks on a culturally significant holiday.

Char’s Green Curry with Beef is accompanied with carrots, peppers, bamboo shoots and served over fried rice – rather than white.

For more information, visit Char’s Thai on Yelp.

Bai Thong Authentic Thai Cuisine

4853 E. Speedway Blvd.
Panang Curry with Chicken at Bai Thong

Panang Curry with Chicken at Bai Thong (Credit: Mark Navarro)

Bai Thong offers central Tucson another tasty Thai option with green, red, yellow, Panang, and Massaman curries with a choice of beef, pork or chicken. Shrimp and salmon curries are also available.

Check out the Panang Curry with sautéed beef, served with red chili, fresh basil, coconut milk, peanut sauce, and spicy gravy. Wonderfully traditional, and slightly sweeter than some of the others, Bai Thong’s curry dishes satisfy a milder palate. Even their spicy dish was on the mild side.

For more information, visit Bai Thong on Facebook.

Thai-China Bistro

5121 E. Grant Rd.
Bangkok Delight at Thai-China Bistro

Bangkok Delight at Thai-China Bistro (Credit: Mark Navarro)

Originally opened as a takeout concept, Thai-China Bistro is now a full-service restaurant.

If they seem familiar, they are. Serving Tucson for more than 20 years, they originally opened as Thai China Palace in 1994, then reopened as Thai China Siam at River and Rudasill in 2001 before moving to the current location in 2011.

Another plus? Because dishes are freshly prepared, Thai-China Bistro is proud to offer almost any dish in vegan, gluten-free or vegetarian options.

In addition to the classic green, red, yellow and Panang curries, the bistro boasts a special dish. Bangkok Delight, Thai-China Bistro’s most popular dish, is a red curry served with chicken, shrimp, pineapple, bell pepper, onion, and carrot. And, it truly was a delight. If you like your curries on the hot side, order it extra spicy, as it’s a bit mild.

For more information, visit thaichinabistro.com.

Sa-ing Thai Cuisine

9136 E. Valencia Rd.
Yellow Curry with Shrimp at Sa-ing Thai

Yellow Curry with Shrimp at Sa-ing Thai (Credit: Mark Navarro)

There’s no need to travel into central Tucson for good Thai food. Head on down to the southeast side for a surprising delight.

A super casual, no frills, seat yourself kind of atmosphere, Sa-ing Thai offers great tasting, authentic Thai food, plain and simple.

With five curries to choose from — the standard red, green, yellow, Panang, and Massaman — each can be ordered with beef, chicken, pork, tofu or shrimp. Sa-ing’s Gaeng Garee (yellow curry) with Shrimp served with onions and potatoes is a simple dish with the perfect blend of spice, heat, and texture.

For more information, visit Sa-ing Thai on Yelp.

Luckie’s Thai-Asian Cuisine

8110 S. Houghton Rd. Ste. 186
Seafood Curry at Luckie's Thai-Asian

Seafood Curry at Luckie’s Thai-Asian (Credit: Mark Navarro)

Another impressive Thai restaurant located on the southeast side since 2009, Luckie’s offers a very casual order-at-the-counter dining atmosphere, and surprises you from there.

Their menu includes an impressive nine curry dishes from the standard red, green, yellow, Panang, and Massaman curries to varieties such as Chu Chi Curry (shrimp), Salmon Curry, Seafood Curry, and a Gang Pah dry curry.

Add to these curry choices various options including chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, crab, salmon, tofu, vegetable, and House (chicken, beef, and shrimp), and you’ll find a virtually endless number of choices and combinations.

Check out the Seafood Curry, which is a red curry with salmon, scallops, mussels, and shrimp accompanied by peppers, onion, carrot, pineapple, and basil.

The food is amazing and the staff is super friendly. The owner is from northeast Thailand, giving their cuisine a unique regional flair.

For more information, visit luckiesthaifood.com.

Grain River Asian Bistro

12985 N. Oracle Rd., Ste. 125
Green Curry with Chicken and Tofu at Grain River Asian Bistro

Green Curry with Chicken and Tofu at Grain River Asian Bistro (Credit: Mark Navarro)

Grain River Asian Bistro on the northwest side of town is the best alternative to driving into Tucson.

The selection is simple: Red or Green Curry offered in vegan meat, vegetable, tofu, chicken, shrimp, or beef varieties — or you can mix any of them for a combination to call your own.

The Red Curry with Beef and Green Curry with Chicken and Tofu are worth trying. The meats are tender and the tofu is cooked just right. Both dishes include a lot of vegetables as standard (perhaps more than any other on this list), including snow peas, bamboo shoots, carrot, celery, onion, green pepper, zucchini, and mushrooms.

Another unique feature of their curries? They are sweeter (even when ordered spicy) and slightly thicker than the others we tried. So if sweet is more to your liking than spicy, and thicker tickles your fancy better than soupy, take a chance and try theirs.

For more information, visit grainriverasianbistro.com.

Jennifer Tersigni is a well-traveled foodie and yogi. She is also founder and Lead Consultant of Raise the Bar Consulting in Tucson, Arizona.

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