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Swing Thai take-away flies high, but dine in for full flavor

Any real city must have high-quality Thai takeout. Sure, it's nice to sit down and be waited on every once in a while, but the true test of Thai cuisine is how it tastes in your living room rather than the restaurant's dining room.

Not only does Swing Thai pass this test with flying colors, but the homegrown chain is one of the more conscientious establishments in the city, eschewing MSG and offering up organic tofu and vegan and gluten-free options -- plus all-natural, steroid-and-antibiotic-free beef and chicken for the carnivores. With such high standards, vegetarians don't need to worry about fish oil sneaking into their entrees.

The fried vegetable rolls ($4.50) in the photo above look much better plated up in the restaurant than on my dining-room table, but they taste great in either spot. Shredded cabbage and carrot come stuffed inside layers and layers of wonton wrappers, crunchy on the outside and steaming-hot on the inside. When dipped in Swing Thai's special sweet sauce, which brings out the flavors, the overall effect is blissful.

Pad Thai is one of the most popular Thai dishes available in this country, so it's interesting to see how versions vary from restaurant to restaurant. Swing Thai sells sizable amounts of its gluten-free Pad Thai, and it's easy to see why: an ideal balance of rice noodles to egg to crushed peanuts to scallions to protein to spice. Those spices complement the rest of their ingredients, letting the underlying flavors shine through while still bringing the dish together. And then there's the sublime tofu, perfectly fried, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Pad Thai is one of those dishes that's usually edible even when it's bad -- but Swing Thai's Pad Thai is remarkably good. Fair warning: Although the fried vegetable rolls travel well, the crispy outer shell of the fried tofu in the Pad Thai tends to get soggy (and the tofu itself can get cold) en route, and you won't experience the true beauty of the dish.

This dinner came from the Swing Thai at 301 South Pennsylvania Street -- but all four metro locations maintain the same high quality on an array of vegetarian and vegan curries, soups, salads and more. And they all offer dine-in, carry-out and even delivery for those lucky enough to live near a Swing Thai.

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