Tables are packed with large parties; customers line up at the register to pick up big brown bags of take-out orders; and a cluster of about 20 eager patrons — most of them wearing laminated badges — wait by the glass doors for a seat to open up.
It's obvious that Buda Thai is doing something right.
With its high ceilings, textured walls, modern hanging lamps and accents of pistachio green and natural wood, the one-and-a-half-year-old restaurant sets a modern, upscale vibe that almost lets you forget that you're surrounded by an asphalt parking lot. Feathery grasses are planted by the large windows to soften the view, and the large adjacent patio is framed with plants and shaded by perky yellow and green umbrellas.
Its lunchtime popularity does have a down side. While service is friendly and efficient, the wait for our order dragged, and patrons with a set lunch hour are well-advised to arrive early or order their food to take back to the office.
Once our dishes arrived, however, all was forgiven. Presentation is lovely, with soups, curries and stir-fries served on square white platters that showcase the colors and textures of the cuisine of Thailand. Overall, the food was hot, tangy and full of deep flavor and aromas. Most dishes are accompanied by a mound of organic jasmine or brown rice, and I found the brown rice alone to be flavorful and well-prepared.
Duck red curry ($9.95 lunch/$12.95 dinner) was a generous bowl filled with slivers of duck, bell pepper, tomato and pineapple in a sharp and perfectly balanced sauce that was both sweet and acidic. Lemongrass chicken ($8.95 lunch/$11.95 dinner), stir-fried with peppers and onions, was speckled with red chili peppers, making a fiery meal redolent of its complex spices. While the menu conscientiously lists a heat scale, be warned that spicy means just that and asking for extra spicy or Thai spicy can be more than some people can bear. For brave souls, there's an option of "make you cry spicy."
Another winner was the prik king ($7.95 lunch/$10.95 dinner), wok-tossed green beans made with your choice of chicken, pork, beef or tofu in a thick delicious curry sauce. And for a nontraditional option, try the curry puffs ($7.95 lunch/$5 happy hour), rich flaky pastry wrapped around well-seasoned potatoes and vegetables and served with a zingy cucumber salad.
The only slightly disappointing selection was the classic pad Thai ($7.95/$10.95 dinner). The noodles were perfectly prepared, but the sauce was one-dimensional despite the extra squeeze of lime, bean sprouts and garnish of cilantro.
All dishes are made to order, which means that the restaurant can easily accommodate substitutions and special requests. Owner Ron Cooper said he learned to cook from his mother and opened the restaurant as an homage to her skills. "I don't believe in watering down the flavors of Thailand," he said. "I wanted to take the true essence of Thai home cooking and then adapt what I learned from her."
Despite the midday onslaught, service is above par. Water glasses are refilled, timing is well-thought out, and plates are cleared diligently. Tables are numbered but servers don't appear to have their own areas. Instead, they work with one another, making sure the food arrives as soon as it is ready. That sense of cooperation and gracious professionalism helps patrons overlook a potentially long wait.
Buda Thai is open for happy hour (with a specially priced appetizer menu) and dinner on Thursday and Friday, which may soon be extended an extra day or two. The menu selection is the same as for lunch, but portions are larger.
Buda Thai masterfully combines the disparate elements of Thai cuisine, creating aromatic and balanced dishes that are a delight to the eye as well as the palate. Service, food and attention to details make the restaurant a standout. I wish I lived closer by — I would work my way through the entire menu.
425 N. Whisman Road #100, Mountain View
Lunch: Weekdays 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Thurs.-Fri. 5-8:30 p.m. Happy hour: Thurs.-Fri. 5-6 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: adjacent lot
Alcohol: beer, wine
Wheelchair access: yes
Delivery: large orders only
Outdoor seating: yes
Party facilities: no
Noise level: average
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent