Simply Thai is good enough to square off against Seattle's heavy hitters. If it were on Queen Anne, say, it could hold its own against Tup Tim Thai. But Simply Thai is at Southcenter, and that means it has no competition: It's the best place to eat at the mall (with the possible exception of Cinnabon).
All your Thai favorites are available, of course, along with a few unusual selections. Remember Crab Rangoon? Simply Thai calls it "Crab Delight" ($5.75), but it's the same crab and cream cheese, fried in a wonton skin. You'll ask yourself why you're eating something so ridiculous even as you admit that, OK, it's awfully tasty.
Better yet, this and other appetizers arrive in attractive blue-and-white ceramic boats. I don't know where this suburban Chinese-American nostalgia comes from, but since the Thai food is so good, it helps to give the place a homey air.
I can never resist som tam, the northeastern Thai papaya salad, and Simply Thai's ($7.25) is pretty good. I've long maintained that som tam should look and taste like something scraped off the bottom of the ocean. Simply Thai's, lightly dressed with fish sauce and lime with sprinkles of dried chili, is a bit more genteel but still refreshing between bites of something more pungent, like the exemplary phad Thai ($7.25).
The back of the menu is given over to an explanation of Thai cooking. The diner is sagely informed that coconut milk "is made from shredded coconut meat and should not be confused with the liquid drained from the coconut." The guide didn't help to explain why one of the dishes is called "Holly Chicken" ($7.75), which sounds like a failed children's cartoon, but on the takeout menu it's spelled "Holy Chicken," because it has holy basil in it. Another mystery solved.
Whatever it's called, the chicken dish is the kind of simple stir-fry with vegetables and fish sauce that seems to make its way onto the table at every Thai meal and is always welcome.
It pays to know what dishes are best at a given Thai restaurant. Everybody seems to have different standards in phad thai, and if your ideal is chewy noodles with emphasis on the sweet-and-sour flavor, you're in luck: Simply Thai executes this style with aplomb.
Their version of tom yum ($6.25), the hot-and-sour soup, is among the best I've had in the Seattle area, with great flavor balance in the spicy broth. The spring rolls ($4.75), full of tiny rice noodles and vegetables and served in another of those cute ceramic boats, are also worth considering.
Service was friendly and attentive. Even as the restaurant began to fill with customers during our meal, our water glasses were kept full. Simply Thai doesn't serve dessert, which is just as well, because "someone" thought he heard Cinnabon calling.
Chicken satay: The ubiquitous meat-on-a-stick is done right here. The turmeric-rubbed chicken is juicy and comes with a light peanut sauce for dipping.
Tom yum: "Yum" is right. The best dish of the meal, this cloudy hot-and-sour soup with chicken and mushrooms looked and tasted like homemade.
Beef larb: Go ahead and use the included cabbage leaves to wrap up a bit of this tangy beef and onion salad, but please, don't refer to it as a "wrap."
Panang prawns: I had high hopes for this red curry, which had an auspicious sheen of coconut oil, but it was one-dimensional and the prawns a bit overcooked.
Itemized bill, meal for two:
Chicken satay: $5.75
Tom yum: $6.25
Beef larb: $6.50
Panang prawns: $8.25