Exploring Havana Street: Thai Basil Is for Lovers

A creamy panang curry at Thai Basil.EXPAND
A creamy panang curry at Thai Basil.
Maureen Witten
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The “lovers' booth” isn’t just a nook at a 1950s-style diner for sipping a double-strawed chocolate milkshake. At Thai Basil, 2710 South Havana Street, the Lovers' Booth is an antique, hand-carved teak wedding bed imported from Asia and transformed into a private, romantic seating area for two people (or as many as eight, if that's your thing) that can be reserved for special events (or chosen on a whim when available). As the name implies, these canopy-style beds were given to a bride and groom as a traditional wedding gift. Jessica Vo, Thai Basil’s owner, points out that along with the two bed-booths, most of the furniture in the restaurant is imported from Asia (see the two seven-foot-tall vases clad in poems at the entrance). These antiques lend an elegant and historical look to the otherwise modern decor of the dining space.

Like the heirlooms intermingled with modern decor in the restaurant’s large dining room, the fare here is typical of an Asian-fusion eatery, with dishes inspired from the cuisines of a number of countries and re-created in a contemporary way. That said, it should be pointed out that this is one of several Thai Basil locations in the Denver area (the others are at 1400 East 18th Avenue in Denver and in Colorado Springs, Thornton and Lone Tree), so the menu cannot escape a certain déjà-vu quality. The offerings are pretty standard — rolls, soups, noodle dishes, curries and meat entrees that satisfy a craving for Asian foods without challenging the uninitiated palate too much.

The Lover's Booth can accomodate eight people, but it's best for just two.EXPAND
The Lover's Booth can accomodate eight people, but it's best for just two.
Maureen Witten

As a starter, the edamame has been gussied up in a chili-lime version ($5) that incorporates a hefty squeeze of lime and a spicy oil that gives each bite a citrusy, peppery zing. For an entree, the panang beef ($11), is a classic silky and sweet Thai curry, loaded with chunky pieces of red and green peppers, yam and onion soaking in a warm, light-red sauce with thinly sliced beef counterparts. The gingery curry has an essence of fish sauce and a bite of spice on the back end. The tried-and-true standard, sesame chicken ($11), though uniformly wrapped in a heavy blanket of breading and sticky sauce, was surprisingly more savory than sweet.

Vo recommends that diners try the pad Thai ($11) and sticky mango rice dessert ($7), acknowledging, “I give all the credit to the chef.” She explained that the menu at Thai Basil caters to most dietary regimens, with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. “Any meal can be customized for the customer’s dietary needs,” she says. “We have several people ordering tofu lettuce wraps every day, even though they’re not on the menu.”

Edamame with lime and chili.EXPAND
Edamame with lime and chili.
Maureen Witten

Vo confirms that if customers need special requests, the chef will make it happen. “Sometimes our regulars throw out ideas, and we can usually make what they request, as long as it’s not too far-fetched.” The chef, Tha Chao, has worked at the Havana Street Thai Basil for seven years and came from the Park Meadows location, “so he’s familiar with the menu and adept when it comes to the customization of a particular dish,” Vo adds.

Although over the years the restaurant has attracted regular customers, Vo notes that new customers frequently ask if the restaurant just opened, since they’ve never noticed that Thai Basil was in their own neighborhood all along. So she began marketing to the surrounding area to help bring in locals. “We do send out coupons for delivery, but want the public to know that they can reference any coupon without actually having one in hand.”

Thai Basil does a pretty good job with Chinese sesame chicken.EXPAND
Thai Basil does a pretty good job with Chinese sesame chicken.
Maureen Witten

One of the ongoing daily specials at the Aurora location is a $4 side of fried or steamed rice when two entrees are purchased for takeout or delivery. Happy hour serves up $5 cocktails, $3 house wines, $2 beers and $4 select appetizers from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Lunch-hour specials (11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily) are priced from $3 to $4 less than main dishes at dinner time and include rice and an egg roll. Thai Basil can also cater to large groups, with a private dining section that can seat up to twenty guests.

As with many Asian-fusion restaurants, the success of Thai Basil depends on its ability to produce the array of standards with consistency in a setting that offers up a few novel twists. Whether you’re seeking a special occasion in the Lover’s Booth or just an intriguing new spot for a work lunch, Thai Basil is worth trying — with your lover or just a lunch pal.

The Aurora Thai Basil is one of the fancier restaurants on Havana Street.EXPAND
The Aurora Thai Basil is one of the fancier restaurants on Havana Street.
Maureen Witten

Thai Basil is at 2710 South Havana Street in Aurora. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 9:30 p.m. Vo recommends calling ahead to 303-369-8889 for reservations on weekends, though it is not necessary. See the Thai Basil website for menus and other information.

Here's more of our continuing Havana Street series, where Maureen Witten stops at every eatery (excluding national chains) along the busy street — from south to north.

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