Review: Thai Suan Thip

If anyone knows where the name “Thai Suan Thip” comes from, please let me know. That’s the name of the restaurant that has made their way into the old Mojo Bistro space. When Mojo Bistro was closing, the owners told me that a Thai restaurant would be moving in to replace them; they just didn’t have many details. At the request of a friend, I recently checked in on the incoming Thai restaurant’s progress: though hard to tell from the web, the new place is definitely open. The problem: other than a phone number on the now-defunct Mojo web site, the restaurant is barely mentioned online. Given the situation, I had to stoop so low as to actually call the place to confirm they were even open. Shudder.

After calling, but still armed with minimal details, I took the leap and made my way out to Bellevue to give the new place a try. I was very glad I did.

NOTE: Thanks to some helpful readers, I did eventually figure out the history on the name. Thai Suan Thip literally means “garden of the heavens.” It’s the name of a beautiful garden in Thailand and — at least one commenter notes — it’s the site where the owners were married. Thanks to everyone who posted an explanation!

Thai Suan Thip
(somebody needs a web site)

172 Lincoln Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15202
(412) 766-1899

Thai Suan Thip on Urbanspoon

Now…it’s about time I take a stab a documenting the existence of place on the web.

A one-room restaurant. Sadly, I had never been to Mojo Bistro; Thai Suan Thip was my first exposure to this space. The single room restaurant is small—even more so than I expected. Despite the small size, I felt ample space between tables—they didn’t feel over-packed. With a single dining room, I suspect there wasn’t any structural change between Mojo and Thai, but the interior decor must have undergone a major overhaul: the space is very highly decorated with Asian-themed figures and artwork throughout the space—especially in the rear toward the kitchen.

When I went, the tables were pre-set with complete place-settings and 3D napkin foldings. With only a single room, a single waiter could cover the whole restaurant. On the week night when I made my way over, there were only a few tables in use, so we really had our choice of where to sit.

Looking toward the kitchen

A tidy place setting.

When they brought me a pint glass. Thai Suan Thip is a BYOB establishemnt—that’s one of the details I called to confirm ahead of time. Usually, when I bring my own beer, restaurants look at me funny. It seems that many restauranteurs always consider BYOB to mean “Bring Your Own Wine” (strange, I know). Usually, that means that no one has any idea what type of glass to bring out when I pull out a beer. Typically I end up with either an over-sized hexagonal water glass or a wine glass (of the two, I prefer the wine glass). TSP TST (“Thai Suan Thip”), on the other hand, brought me an actual pint glass. That’s how they scored their first points.

I’ve always wavered in my feelings on BYOB. On one hand, it gives me the opportunity to take control of my beer options and eliminates uncertainty over the quality of my destination’s beer list. On the other hand, it makes for one more piece of planning—and one more detail to verify before I show up. In this case, I’d say it worked out well.

Mid-sized menus are just fine. For a Thai restaurant, the menu was relatively small, but that’s not a bad thing. As one would expect of any Asian restaurant, many items represented variations on a small number of preparations: curries, fried rice, noodle bowls, and the ever-popular house specialties. I can’t find the menu online, so it’s hard to pull much more detail from memory. I can say that they menu also includes a fairly wide range of soups—and even a desert list (one that we weren’t even prepared to hear).

Being a Thai restaurant, it goes without saying that vegetarian options were available all over the place. Tofu is one of the “meat” options for just about every item on the menu. Turns out, that’s a protein the Thai are quite good at preparing.

Spring rolls

To start: some fresh spring rolls. In continuing a bit of a tradition, we opted for fresh spring rolls to start off. As you can see in the photo, the presentation was beautiful: complete with a little umbrella popping out of a piece of carrot on the plate. Our server explained that the umbrella was an homage to the “spring” in “spring roll”—an item traditionally prepared in the spring and summer months. Think of it as something to block the bright sun.

The biggest flavor coming out of the spring rolls: mint. Thai Basil can be hard to source, but I’ve read that it’s flavor lies somewhere between the basil and mint that we know an love. For the spring rolls at TSP TST, I picked up a big dose of the mint—almost as if the rolls included both basil and mint. Then again, perhaps they even included actual Thai Basil, and I had no idea that’s what I was eating.

The pumpkin curry

The spicy basil.

Emily’s pumpkin curry. Based on a friend’s suggestion, my date (Emily) ordered the pumpkin curry with tofu (no really, she likes Tofu). This one came served in a bowl—almost like a soup of coconut cream, pumpkin, and tofu. The bowl was served with a big spoon and large mound of white rice on the side. The pumpkin itself, really came through—which is often hard when you’re talking about pumpkin. For heat, level, Emily had opted for medium, and the dish came out just under the level of heat that I would have expected. If you’re going to land on either side of the spectrum, I suppose that’s the safer way to go.

My spicy basil order. I order spicy basil entirely too often when I go out for Thai or even Chinese (though the resulting dish differs). In this case, I was avoiding the curries to ensure that we ended up with two distinct dishes on the table. At first, I thought I might go for a dish TSP TST called “garlic and ginger,” but the description for the spicy basil pulled me in. Upon receiving my plate, I was quite impressed: lots of fresh crunchy vegetables with a moderately spicy brown sauce (more so than Emily’s curry). Given a choice of meat, I opted for shrimp—thinking it would work well with the dish. If you’re not all up on the seafood (as I am), then the tofu option would be a better choice (and probably be just as good).

The restaurant staff.

Awesome staff. Right before we got up to leave, we received a quick visit from the executive chef: it seems we had shown the waiter just a little bit too much enthusiasm for the food. I get the feeling the waiter and chef were the only two people in the place, and both were quite grateful to have succeeded in pleasing their guests. To me, that’s what makes a great restaurant: an environment where the entire staff is there because they want to provide an experience and a meal that their guests will enjoy. Thai Suan Thip was that kind of place taken to the extreme.

In case you can’t tell, I’m thrilled with Thai Suan Thip. It’s exactly the kind of restaurant I enjoy: food packed with flavor and healthy enough that I don’t have to feel guilty for three days. Add to the mix an awesome staff that seems to care deeply about pleasing their guests, and there’s little doubt that it’s a must-try kind of place. If you’re a foodie in the ‘Burgh or just happen to like Thai cuisine, I highly recommend making your way out to Bellevue to give them a try.

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23 Responses to “Review: Thai Suan Thip”

  1. Gina Says:
    November 8th, 2010 at 12:46 am

    I’m so sad that Mojo Bistro is gone! This sounds like a good place, but I’ll always think of that space as the Mojo Bistro space, where my wedding rehearsal dinner was.

  2. Steve H. Says:
    November 8th, 2010 at 3:08 am

    So… what does TSP stand for in your review?

  3. mike Says:
    November 8th, 2010 at 5:45 am

    Gina: I’m just sad that I never even had a chance to try Mojo. I had reservations for a FoodBurgh meetup the last week they were open, but then they called to let me know that they would close a week early.

    I try and make a point to highlight the good restaurants that don’t deserve to go out of business, so it always feels a little bit like I failed when a place like Mojo closes.

    That said, the space couldn’t have fallen into better hands: I get the feeling that Thai Suan Thip is one of the best replacements that could have moved in to fill it up.

  4. mike Says:
    November 8th, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Steve: TSP means that my brain thought TST (Thai Suan Thip) couldn’t be right and inserted it everywhere I didn’t feel like typing the full restaurant name. I made the appropriate corrections above.

    It also indicates that I needed my official proofreader to post a comment and give me a rough time about it. :-P

  5. Kelly Says:
    November 8th, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Oh I am definitely going to have to check them out! Looks fantastic.

  6. sm Says:
    November 30th, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Suan Thip Thai Cultural House in Pak Kret, Nonthaburi, one of Thailand’s finest Thai restaurants, has received endless praise and admiration for its unique signature recipes

  7. Em Says:
    December 21st, 2010 at 9:41 am

    I only wish they had opened up a year or two ago, when I still had friends in Bellevue and visited that area all the time. But a combination of over-exposure to my nearby favorite Thai places and your raving review has convinced me that making the special trip out there (even by bus) is completely worth it.

  8. M Says:
    December 22nd, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Does anyone know why the Mojo Bistro closed? It was one of our favorite places.

  9. mike Says:
    December 22nd, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I don’t know for sure. When I last talked to them, they were pondering another venture in another area (maybe the South Side?). Based on that and others that I have talked to, I don’t think they had enough business to support continued operation.

  10. Matt Says:
    January 14th, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Hey just a follow up to your question: the owner explained the name to us when we were there for dinner. Suan Thip apparently means something akin to heavenly garden or paradise garden I believe. It’s also the name of a park/garden in or near Bangkok I believe where the owners (Chef and Maitre’d pictured above) were married.
    Also the food is great!

  11. mike Says:
    January 16th, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Matt: thanks for the background on the name!

  12. cww Says:
    February 13th, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Thai Suan Thip means Garden of the Heavens. It is also the name of a beautiful spot north of Bangkok

  13. Michele H Says:
    February 15th, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Great food and great place to sit and have a really good meal. Welcome addition to the Pittsburgh food scene. Loved it and will return often!

  14. MPS Says:
    February 27th, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Thai Suan Thip is the garden where the owners were married!

  15. Amanda Says:
    March 15th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    This place is amazing! I have gone many times and the friends I have taken there want to go back! I recommend the The smarter starter appitizer, it has a fried spring roll, fresh spring roll, crab rangoon, and a dumpling. It is only $4.95 and totally worth it! Each of us ordered one. So far I have had the Pad thai with chicken, Mussaman Curry, home sweet home with shrimp and pad thai with shrimp. My favorite so far is the home sweet home, it has cucumbers, tomatoes and a sweet/savory sauce, yum! My husband and I go and take a bottle of plum wine, it is a perfect treat to go with anything especially if you are getting something spicy!

    Tell everyone to go… and make reservations!! It is fantastic!

  16. Trudy Says:
    March 31st, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    I never had Thai food before I went here (I have a friend who lives close) and we are both completely addicted! I have never had anything that was less than perfect. And a great note, the first time I went, I got appetizer, entree and dessert for $20. What’s not to LOVE?

  17. Christen Says:
    August 2nd, 2011 at 3:04 am

    My fiancé ms I found this place one Friday night in December2010 and were hooked ever since. The owners, food, atmosphere and prices come together to create an amazing dinner experience for two or ten people. We now live in Thailand (we loved telling the staff that we were planning on moving here as we visited the restaurant leading up to the move) and even though the food isn’t quite what we get from the stalls lining the streets each night, I can tell you that it is absolutely delicious! Every time. I can’t wait to visit once we move back to the states!

  18. Christen Says:
    August 2nd, 2011 at 3:15 am

    Oh and the pad see ew with chicken us the best. I finally found a place that serves some just like it in THAILAND! That just goes to show you how good it is. :)

  19. Sharon Hrabovsky Says:
    June 3rd, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I recall that the restaurant is named after a beautiful garden in Thailand where the owner and chef were married. I think that it means Garden in Heaven. Next time u r in, just ask the owners. They’ll tell you. Very nice people. I always buy gift certificates there for people, friends, teachers, etc. they all love it!

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