tara thaiI am deeply skeptical about Asian chain restaurants. So while I was initially excited to hear that a new Thai restaurant was coming to town, my enthusiasm fizzled when I heard it was a chain restaurant. That was going into Barracks. Chain restaurant, shopping mall, meh.

We went to Tara Thai with lowered expectations and left mostly satisfied, if not awestruck. Outside Tara Thai is the typical madness of Barracks, inside it’s swanky nightclub meets aquarium. The ambience is much nicer than expected and definitely a welcome departure from the usual dependence on fluorescent in many local Asian joints.Tara Thai - 11

The drink menu feels like it was stolen from a beach bar in Cancun, with pages of technicolor drinks named things like “The Giggling Parrot.” I tried to get in the spirit with a pink cosmo, but it felt like someone was going to pass out jello shots at any moment. The bar itself is actually pretty nice, so I wish they’d create a slightly more sophisticated or Thai-influenced drink menu to match it.

The food started well with one of the best Larb (minced chicken, scallions, cilantro and lime juice) we’ve had in town. Our main dishes (Pad See Ew with chicken and tofu, and Kao Pad with chicken) were competent. The Pad See Ew had a nice char flavor but the tofu had that weird old taste. Everything needed a lot more spice, but I suppose that’s not surprising for a mall-friendly chain (no “hot Thai” options here).

All in all, I found the food to be a decent but watered down version of Thai food. If you want great Thai food, go to Lime Leaf. If you want a Mai Tai after throwing elbows at Harris Teeter, go to Tara Thai.

Jed says: “Though not the best Thai in town, it’s not the worst – a cubic zirconia in the rough.”

award_star_gold_3 16Rating: Erin: Jed:

thumb_up 16 iconPros: Nice ambience with good lighting, good bar and booths.

thumb_down 16 iconCons: Food lacking character and spice at times, bar menu designed for newly drinking co-eds.

money_dollar 16 iconPrice: Apps $5-8, Main courses $10-17.

car famfam 16 iconParking: Barracks lot can be a hassle but you’ll find a space.

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