By Katie Thomas EBS Contributor
BOZEMAN – It’s a good sign when you walk into a restaurant and can smell authenticity. Upon entering Thai Basil, the keen observer will immediately recognize the fragrance of curry, mixed with the sweetness of Thai iced tea and other special secret ingredients that Thai restaurants use to seduce our senses—my guess is lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves.
Thai Basil is Bozeman’s newest Asian dining establishment, located on the corner of North 19th Avenue and Oak Street in the Smith’s Shopping Center. The restaurant was formerly a food truck and owners Jason and Jen Alexander opened the brick and mortar establishment in mid-March, much to the delight of Thai food fanatics throughout the valley.
After selling her culinary creations out of her food truck from 2015-2017, Jen realized they needed a larger, permanent space. They moved into what was the Corner Bakery, joining a busy conglomerate of businesses.
On a recent evening, curious diners were drawn into the bright, modern space, bringing appetites and palates prepared for traditional Thai spice. The beverage choices are limited (hot tea, Thai iced tea and Coke products only), but why would anyone want anything besides the concoction of strong, spiced black tea and sweetened condensed milk?
Among the enticing appetizer options were the fried spring rolls (veggie or pork), which were wonderfully flaky and flavorful. In an effort to conjure a tropical Thai beach, I selected the green papaya salad next, which was abundant with tangy lime juice and kicky hotness.
The curry aromas I detected earlier determined the first entrée choice: panang curry with chicken. A thick, salty and sweet variety of red curry, Thai Basil’s panang had the perfect combination of vegetables in its creamy broth: bell peppers, zucchini and mushrooms.
In contrast, the drunken noodles with beef can be ordered completely mild—for most dishes diners can choose their desired level of heat—but these diners opted for three stars out of five. Our fiery palates were extinguished with a dessert of mango sticky rice, which arrived warm, sweet, and satisfyingly chewy.
The atmosphere at Thai Basil is casual, which is comforting for anyone new to Thai food. The main dining room is large and welcoming, with colorful art on the walls and large windows. It looks and feels as brand new as it is.
Jen, whose Thai name is Kanchana Srichandi, met her husband when he was vacationing in Thailand. After marrying they decided to move back to Jason’s hometown of Bozeman, where they began sharing Jen’s culinary gifts out of the food truck in 2015.
They gained quite a following in Bozeman, as well as in Livingston and Big Sky, where they would park their truck at farmers’ markets and music events. The Alexanders sold the food truck shortly before opening the restaurant.
If the prospect of well-executed, exotic Thai food isn’t enough motivation to try the Alexanders’ new restaurant, perhaps the challenge of who can tolerate the highest level of spice is. As a longtime waitress at a Thai restaurant myself, I’ve rarely met an American who can enjoy five stars—but the attempts always make for an interesting meal.
Thai Basil is located at 1805 W. Oak St. in Bozeman. The hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.; and Sundays from 12-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. For more information, call (406) 624- 6815.