Smile Politely

Enjoy tasty and spicy Thai food at Thara Thai

Right off I-74 next to Popeye’s, there lies a quaint little restaurant that is easily one my favorite Thai restaurants in Champaign. Thara Thai advertises itself as a Pan-American restaurant with a menu of so many delicious items. I think it certainly lives up to that.

Inside, Thara Thai has a simple cozy interior with both tables and booths. It can get crowded during the rush hours and a little cramped if you are sitting in the interior tables, but overall, it is pretty comfortable seating.

Inside Thara Thai in Champaign, there are booths with blue vinyl backs and gray tables. There are no diners or servers. The dining room is empty because of the pandemic. Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

The menu contains appetizers, salads, curries, noodles, soups, fried rice, and desserts. The apps range from rolls, tofu, calamari, dumplings, and pot stickers. They have some amazing salads, too, including papaya, beef, and chicken salads.

There are egg rolls in a small square styrofoam container with a small cup of red sauce. Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

My go-to appetizer is the mini veg egg rolls ($7.99). These hot fried veggie rolls with the sweet and tangy chili sauce were the perfect mix of crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

On a brown tablecloth, there is a to go cup with the cover removed. Inside, there is a light brown Thai iced tea with ice. Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

For drinks, there were plenty of options to choose from, both hot and cold. Tea, coffee, and also juices like coconut juice and palm juice were on the menu. If I dine in, I usually get the hot tea, but since I was carrying out, I ordered the Thai iced tea ($4.99). Iced tea mixed with milk, this sweet cool drink was a perfect combo to the hot spicy food on offer.

When one usually thinks of Thai food, red, green and yellow curries, or pad Thai are the usual dishes that come to mind. However, the cuisine offers variations on these classics as well. Thara Thai excels in all their dishes, and I definitely recommend exploring all that the menu offers.

On a brown table with a light brown tablecloth, there is a black bowl of pho broth with scallions, sauce, and noodles. Beside it, there is another takeout container. Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

The first dish I got was the vegetarian pho ($15.99). An assortment of vegetables and tofu in a savory broth with noodles sounds like a simple dish. However, this thin rice noodles dish packed a flavorful punch. As a lover of spicy food, I get this dish Thai hot — which is above the usual mild, medium, and hot spice levels. Bear in mind that a typical medium level at Thara Thai is itself pretty hot, so you may want to calibrate your spice accordingly.

Thara Thai packed the broth with veggies and packaged the noodles with the toppings separately, so that they didn’t get soggy. This was perfect so that I could mix them just before eating. I also was able to portion the sizes and make my mini pho leaving the rest for later.

On a table with a brown tablecloth, there are three containers. One is a yellow curry, one is crunchy sticks, and another has noodles and toppings. Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar. 

The other dish that I ordered was the kao soy ($18.99). This contains thin yellow noodles in yellow curry with onions, carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts, and mustard pickles. The underrated veggies in this dish helped spread the flavorful yellow curry through the noodles. The mustard pickles added a strong tangy flavor to the dish, and I wasn’t a huge fan. I will probably ask them to take those out next time.

What truly makes this dish is the crispy noodles that come with it. The crispy noodles along with the soft noodles compliment each other perfectly. This dish was also separated to ensure that the diner can mix them in just before eating.

A photo of pad kee mao from Thara Thai in a black takeout bowl. Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

Photo by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

Going with the theme of variations, the pad kee mao ($17.99) is the next on the list. The stir-fried wide noodles with assorted veggies like carrots, bell pepper, basil, onions, baby corn, and broccoli in chili-garlic sauce was a dish that gave pad Thai a run for its money. I really enjoyed the texture of the wide noodles, and it helped savor the sauce along with the tofu.

You can get all these dishes with different proteins: tofu, chicken, or beef as well as just veggies.

Since the pandemic, they have closed the dine-in area and have gone to purely carry-out options. There is some good news for regulars: even though they don’t have a set date in mind, they are planning to open up for dine-in soon.

Thara Thai
912 1/2 Bloomington Road
T–Sa 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Su 12 noon to 9 p.m.

Top image by Shrivatsa Ravikumar.

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