Located a few blocks away from Bellevue Square, Araya’s Place is a warm and surprisingly affordable way to kick out the winter chills with Thai cuisine. The place, unassuming from outside, puts a regal spin on vegetarian Thai food.
The waiters and waitresses are friendly, quick, and give good advice for those less-decisive eaters. I ordered the Thom Kha and Pad Thai as per recommendation, and there was not a regret in the house. It was a particularly cold evening, so when the Thom Kha came out in a diving dish with a pillar of flames shooting out of the middle, the delight was prominent.
For those who believe that meat is necessary in a dish, the absolute burst of flavors packed into both dishes is a game-changer. Though Pad Thai usually comes with eggs and chicken, it is more often than not a bland but comforting dish. Not so at Araya’s Place: the lack of meat loses any sort of importance with the first bite, when the mouth and the mind are taken by tales of lemongrass and ginger.
Food familiar and unusual abound; there’s something for most any culinary desire. There are savory Thai-styled curries to choose from, salty fried tofu dishes, a variable spice level based on the familiar star spectrum (where one star is spiceless and five stars will cause smoke to wisp out of your ears), sour pineapple soup choices and a total surplus of sweet variety. The black sticky rice is highly suggested and worth trying more than once.
All in all, the meal is likely to run a little less than 10 dollars, and that’s without beverage. In an almost intoxicated rush spurred by the first few tastes, I managed to spend almost three times that much in an attempt to sample everything. I would have been better off coming for the lunch buffet, which is one of the few buffets with an attention to hygiene and quality of food that doesn’t leave a customer in need of a Tums. Warning: this does not include queasiness caused by gorging oneself upon the delicious bounty that never seems to end, because that’s really one’s own fault.
So, next time you pass through downtown Bellevue, or really any time you crave authentic yet modern Thai food, stop by Araya’s Place. If it’s still winter, it’s suggested to get anything that somehow makes use of an open flame.