The Amazing Amazing Thai

Words by Su Ertekin-Taner


The car pulls off on the Gate Parkway exit, heading toward one particular small strip mall not a minute away. Thai food is on the mind today, something authentic and inarguably delicious, and this new find comes with high recommendations from friends. I pull into Amazing Thai. 


The exterior is nothing eye-catching. In fact, the sans serif font — a bold and blocky font typically used for small signs of the restaurant name — begs to be overlooked, forgotten. The fairly sparse surroundings (an Ikea across the street and rows of neighborhoods) doesn’t help. Even the many restaurants of the St. Johns Town Center seem miles away. But something about Amazing Thai encourages me, prepares me for a delectable flavor profile: perhaps it’s the packed parking lot that I barely find a space in. So in spite of that uninspiring bold and blocky font and secluded location, I enter.


A tingly lemongrass aroma fills the air and I know I’ve come to the right spot. I sit down and look around carefully then practice some numerology: six tables in total, two waiters, three seated groups (soon to become five), about 10 photographs of iconic Thailand landmarks like the Grand Palace in Bangkok and five or so Maneki-neko (or “lucky cats”) waving to me near the entrance. Sure enough, one lemongrass oil diffuser behind my head, and one menu before me. I dive in. 


Immediately, I jump to the noodle section of the menu, skipping the soups, salads, entrees, curry dishes and more elaborate house specials. I crave calories today. The pad thai, perhaps the most replicated of Southeast Asian dishes due to a nationwide fascination with Thai food, beckons and I oblige, of course. I also add the titular dish “Amazing Thai” to my order which embeds a choice of meat or veggies in a house-made peanut sauce with steamed broccoli. And eventually, I cave into the veggie spring rolls.


But other dishes catch my eye in my selection journey. The tom yum chicken or tofu soup (a tangy traditional Thai soup with lemongrass, Thai chilies and chili paste, lime leaves, fish sauce and choice of meat), the pad prik (a sauteed mixture of Thai chili, veggies, bamboo shoots and meat), the pad see-ew (stir-fried rice noodles with chili paste, veggies, Thai basil, egg and meat) and the pineapple fried rice (stir-fried rice with pineapple, raisins, cashews, curry powder and meat) draw me in. But traditional Thai flavors with influences from surrounding countries like Laos, Cambodia, India and Malaysia appear throughout the menu. Coconut milk infused dishes, Thai chili dressed meat, lemongrass flavored soup, a large incorporation of fresh fruit into dishes entice me visually — and in a gustatory sense, I’m sure, if I were to try these dishes. For now, I focus on the food which has arrived, already eating with my eyes.


My eyes, which have completed most of the digesting now, foreshadow the explosive taste of this pad thai, the best pad thai I’ve had in Jacksonville. The rice noodles are cooked and stirred perfectly with the bean sprouts, egg, peanuts and chicken. The sauce of tamarind paste, fish sauce and palm sugar is spread evenly among the noodles, allowing every bite to pack a flavorful punch. The sprinkled peanut adds a necessary crunchy element to the dish, and the side of lime, which I squeeze on the noodles, intensifies the taste. The palate of sweet, tart and salty merges so beautifully in my mouth. I am complete in this pad thai. 


I eat a bit of the Amazing Thai, as well, and a completely new flavor profile ruptures the remaining taste of the pad thai. The rich, thick peanut sauce that coats the veggies is luxurious, slipping and sliding in my mouth like velvet on hardwood floor. I look forward to feeling the warmth of the sauce in my mouth after I digest. The spring rolls, too, are delicious in their own right with a well-crisped outside and soft, warm veggie belly. 


Having grown up among primarily Turkish food, I’m certainly not the judge of authenticity for any other culture despite my hours long attempt to educate myself on Thai flavors. Nevertheless, I know the culture of home-cooked foods, the hours spent chiseling and remodifying dishes to represent the flavor profile that ancestors first dreamt up, the devotion to the architecture and look of a meal, and the love infused in the dishes. At Amazing Thai, I sense this devotion, thoughtfulness, amazingness; the restaurant is well-named.


The Amazing Thai may not have an eye-catching exterior, but inside the cultured, deliberate chefs and their traditional Thai food showcase the marvels it holds.

About Su Ertekin-Taner

Jacksonville native Su Ertekin-Taner is a student at Columbia University with a passion for everything arts. While she writes creatively, satirically, journalistically, and enthusiastically (of course), she also loves to sing, dance, and do impressions; her favorites are Toddlers and Tiaras Mom and Shakira. Find Su critiquing the quality of reality TV that she willingly spends several hours a day watching, petting her cat even though she recently discovered her cat allergy, and probably watching paint dry because it's fun.