Senae Thai Bistro is a welcome addition to Tucson’s rapidly developing downtown. Rather than chasing a trend—mason jars, industrial-chic—Senae embraces a classic, timeless aesthetic with nods to the plastered walls and natural wood that are found in some of Tucson’s oldest neighborhoods.
The restaurant’s appearance inspires confidence. Anyone able to pull off such an elegant space has taste, and that bodes well for what comes out of the kitchen. Even the living wall, a vertical garden inside the restaurant and possibly the most Pinterest-y thing in the dining area, fits nicely into the overall vibe and does not feel forced.
Senae’s menu—simple but complete—also conveys a strong sense of self, which is expected given that the chef and owner, Amonwadee Buizer, has been a restaurateur for more than 30 years. She opened her first restaurant, Sweet Basil, in Berkeley, California, and has since run restaurants throughout the Bay Area, Maryland, and, now, Arizona.
Buizer’s husband, Jim Buzier, is a professor in the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment. Senae sources produce from the University of Arizona’s Community and School Garden Program. Vegetables, local and otherwise, get a nice treatment on the menu, where they are featured in starters like the Paupia Tod ($6), crispy vegetable rolls with sweet chili vinaigrette, and Som Thum, a green papaya salad with long beans, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts in a garlic lime dressing.
More familiar starters like Satay and Thom Kha Gai are also available. The Thom Kha Gai ($5) is excellent—spicy and intense, a little sweet, a little oily, but not too heavy.
Comfort food in the form of fried rice and noodles has its own section on the menu. Pad Thai, Pad Se Ew, and Kao Soy all make an appearance, and they’re all in the $10 range, making them an affordable choice in Senae’s upscale environment.
Entrées are presented in satisfying symmetry. They are divided into four categories—vegetarian, poultry, meat, and seafood, and each category has four options. The Makeur Pad Ped, with Asian eggplant, shiitake mushrooms, long beans, and bell peppers wok-fried with basil and chili ($13), shines with simplicity.
On a recent visit we also tried Karee Gai ($15), roasted chicken with potatoes and scallions, simmered in yellow curry and coconut milk. Sweet and rich with coconut, the dish arrived just as described, uncluttered by any superfluous ingredients, though it was quite heavy.
Simple doesn’t mean boring, of course, and many of the seafood and meat options feature intriguing flavor combinations and lovely cuts, though prices are higher than most will be used to paying for similar food in Tucson.
Still, the food is good, and the price is further justified by the ambiance, attentive service, and downtown location. Senae also has a full bar, with local draft beers, wine, bottled Thai beer, and a cocktail menu that incorporates traditional Thai flavors.
63 East Congress Street #121
Tucson, Arizona 85701