Smile Politely

Delicious pad Thai, pad ka na, and pad kee mao at Basil Thai

Pad Thai, pad kana, and pad kee mao at Basil Thai.
Basil Thai; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

I am a big fan of noodles. I like all kinds, but there’s something special about stir-fried noodles in pad Thai. Those flat noodles with crushed peanuts and that sauce is so yum. Despite many attempts (and fails), I’ve learned that I just cannot make pad Thai that tastes anything remotely like actual pad Thai. I can’t do it. I know this about myself, and I’ve moved on, okay? But if there’s any opportunity to eat pad Thai at a Thai restaurant, I take it.

A friend of mine loves Basil Thai and raved about how good their pad dishes were including the pad Thai. Since Smile Politely last reviewed the campus Thai restaurant in 2016, I said let’s go get some pad.

The interior of Basil Thai restaurant in Urbana, Illinois has live plants and strings of colorful trinkets.
Alyssa Buckley

The doors at Basil Thai opened to a bright dining room with green, leafy plants and white walls. Big windows along the front let in a lot of light, making the dining room feel open and airy. The minimalist decor was bird-centric, which I thought was cute. I counted more than 20 framed photos of birds on branches in addition to rooster wind chimes, owls among seahorses in the tasseled strings, and owls on the curtains between the kitchen and ordering counter.

The interior of Basil Thai restaurant has brown chairs and a brown ordering counter.
Alyssa Buckley

On the weekday we went for lunch, Basil Thai was fairly busy, but the line to order moved quickly. The campus eatery offered lots and lots of dishes. The menu had pages listing appetizers, stir-fry noodles, gravy sauce noodles, noodle soups, Thai rice dishes, spicy curries, fried rice, house specialty entrees, salads, desserts, tea, and Thai iced coffee. By the register, there were physical menus to flip through plus a gallery wall featuring portraits of different Thai dishes.

A gallery wall of framed photos of Thai food labelled in English.
Alyssa Buckley

Set on trying a variety of pad dishes, we picked two pad noodles from the menu-book and one pad rice from the photo wall, plus some veggie egg rolls, too. We ordered and paid at the counter, then found a table.

It wasn’t long before we had an egg roll delivery. No sooner had we commented on the egg rolls than the other dishes arrived.

Pad Thai, pad kana, pad kee mao, and two egg rolls at Basil Thai.
Basil Thai; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

One after another in succession, the pad landed on our table: pork pad ka na, chicken pad Thai, and beef pad kee mao.

Two egg rolls on a white plate beside a paper cup of red sauce.
Egg rolls at Basil Thai; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

We started with the appetizer of vegetable egg rolls ($3.45), which came with two rolls and sweet-and-sour sauce. The deep-fried rice pancakes surrounded a steamed medley of thinly sliced cabbage, shredded carrot, and bean thread noodles. The roll’s rice wrapper was ultra thin and super crispy, so the outside crackled and flaked. Inside, the veggie filling had a distinct peppery flavor. Basil Thai’s sweet-and-sour sauce was so delicious, clearly made from-scratch and more complex than cloyingly sweet versions of sweet-and-sour sauce I’ve had before. I loved it so much that I waited until my friend’s roll was eaten, so I could fearlessly double-dunk my roll in that sauce.

Chicken pad Thai at Basil Thai restaurant.
Chicken pad Thai at Basil Thai; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

To begin our pad journey, we first ordered the chicken pad Thai ($11.95), spicy level two. For the price, it was a huge portion. The mountain of deliciousness had rice noodles, bite-sized chicken, sliced green onions, cabbage, tofu, and egg. The chicken had some color from the hot wok stir-fry, which translated to great flavor, and the spice level two was enjoyably spicy. The savory, slick noodles clung to the veggies and cute little cubes of tofu, so every bite was dynamic both texturally and flavor-wise. I loved the aromatic chops of green onion with the chicken and crushed peanuts. I do wish there were more crushed peanuts, but all told, this was a pretty fantastic chicken pad Thai.

A dish of pad kana over white rice.
Basil Thai; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Of all the dish portraits on the wall by the register, the one that caught my eye was pad ka na ($13.95), which we ordered at spice level two. The dish had sautéed Chinese broccoli with crispy pork belly over steamed white rice. The greens had a bouquet of vegetal flavor; the long slices of stems were tender-crisp and the tops wonderfully wilted. The small chops of pork belly were delicious. Some hunks had crunchy edges like bacon, and the pork’s rich fattiness contrasted the bitter leafy greens well. To me, it tasted like a Thai take on the classic combo of cooked greens with pork, and we really enjoyed it.

A sign with the Basil Thai degree of spiciness ranging from one red pepper to five.
Alyssa Buckley

For our final dish, I wanted to try something spicy. When we ordered the spice level three (the midpoint of the Basil Thai Degree of Spiciness), the staff was adamant to make sure we understood the level of spiciness we were asking for. She pointed to the sign and asked us twice to confirm if we were sure. That probably that should have been a clue that we were making a mistake. But I said, “Yeah, spicy is good.”

Pad kee mao at Basil Thai in Urbana.
Pad kee mao at Basil Thai; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Lastly, we ordered the beef pad kee mao ($11.95), spice level three. This dish was an excellent example of umami. The beef had the most delicious marinaded flavor only deepened by a wok-fried char. Thick noodles glistened with a flavorful housemade sauce, which had a subtle tangy, fermented saltiness from fish sauce — and plenty of heat, let me say that. The carrots sticks, chopped bell pepper, and onions tasted mild compared to the noodles and steak that soaked up so much spiciness. Every bite had that yummy, satisfying taste of noodles but then oh dear, spicy heat. Basil Thai’s level three was almost distractingly hot, so I’d probably scale back next time. That said, pad kee mao’s combination of chewy noodles with crunchy vegetables and tender steak just hit, and this dish was my favorite thing we ordered.

The author's lunch of egg rolls, pad Thai, pad kee mao, and pad ka na at Basil Thai.
Basil Thai; Photo by Alyssa Buckley

Overall, I liked Basil Thai restaurant. The food was a great portion for the price, and flavors were fresh. Even though they offer counter service for ordering, the staff did bring customers’ food out to tables. The dining room has tables for two and four people, but it’s the kind of place where it’s okay to push tables together for a larger group.

Find the Thai restaurant on Gregory Street beside Rosati’s Pizza and across from Bab Plus Korean restaurant.

The exterior of Basil Thai restaurant
Alyssa Buckley

Basil Thai
701 S Gregory St
11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., daily

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