Upon entering Pad Thai Cafe, a small eatery located in a shopping center on Church Street, a lovely, smoky, spicy, fresh vegetable aroma from the wok greets diners.
The establishment, owned by Nakhonkham Chanthabandith—or simply Tommy to his American friends and customers—serves all of the Thai and Lao favorites like curries, pad Thai, pho and drunken noodles, along with a variety of Chinese dishes.
Tommy’s brother, Nak, who has studied Japanese cooking, will soon reopen Pad Thai’s sushi bar.
“Some customers were upset [that we had to close the sushi bar temporarily],” Tommy said, but assured the diners of Murfreesboro that the Pad Thai sushi bar will be back in December.
Even without the sushi rolls, the restaurant offers plenty of reasons to visit: for one, the delicious jalapeño fried shrimp and squid appetizer, laced with smokiness from the wok and served on a bed of cabbage, carrots and peppers, with a sriracha dipping sauce.
“The dynamite chicken might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” Larry Noble said of Pad Thai’s stir-fried dish with bell pepper, onion, scallion, carrot, tomato, mushroom and pineapple cooked in a sweet, sour and spicy basil sauce.
The dynamite stir-fry can also be had with tuna, or with the diner’s choice of beef, pork, tofu, shrimp or scallop.
Another customer recommended the crab rangoon and chicken pad Thai, while Nathan, a customer from Shelbyville who called Pad Thai “the best Restaurant in Murfreesboro,” suggests the Thai Fury.
“Their food is absolutely amazing,” he said. “Their food is so fresh, their portions are generous, their spices are just right, and their staff is on top of things and very friendly.”
Tommy is particularly proud of his ginger-encrusted chicken wings. He created this crispy fried dish while working at Asian Palace in Memphis, and now lots of restaurants in that area have their own versions of the ginger chicken wing, according to the Pad Thai owner.
He says the Tom Yum, a soup with a nice coconut flavor and containing perfectly cooked bits of zucchini and other vegetables served with either shrimp or chicken, “has a little of everything.”
“It’s creamy, sweet, sour, spicy,” says Tommy, who was born in Laos.
The Pad Thai staff serves its dishes with a lovely presentation, many of the dishes arranged in shiny metal bowls with just a little carrot or basil leaf ornamentation on the top.
As in many Thai restaurants, the server will ask the customer how spicy they would like their food on a scale of 1 to 5. Many diners will warn others that the Pad Thai scale seems overall a little spicier than some other restaurants in that area.
“If you don’t like spicy, order a 1,” Tommy advises.
“Even No. 2 spicy is spicy,” a diner agrees.
Tommy said he is always trying to improve, and closely monitors feedback on social media, and from customers.
Some criticism of Pad Thai includes the small size of the restaurant and the occasional difficulty finding a table during peak times, the wait for made-to-order food during these busier times, the food sometimes being too spicy for the diner to handle, and the (temporary) suspension of the sushi bar.
Still, the restaurant has earned many true fans over the past few years.
“I have been to countless Thai restaurants, but this one takes the cake,” Lindsey P. posted to Yelp. “I can’t eat pad Thai anywhere else but here. Lad Nah is fantastic, Pad Se Ew is yum, the Pho is the best we’ve had with all the fresh herbs and extras they bring out on the side, the peanut sauce is made in-house and is a must-have for any dipping you must do.”
Another Yelper stated that after trying at least 30 Thai joints all over the country, he ranks Pad Thai in the top two spots that he has sampled.
Tommy expresses his pride in his customers raving about his place, and said he is glad to see Thai and Lao cooking becoming so popular in Murfreesboro.
“It was hard to get people to try it at first,” he said, thus his reasoning for wanting to offer some Chinese food that Murfreesboro people were more familiar with, like general chicken, that may entice them to come back and try a curry or noodle dish on their next visit.
“In Thai cooking we use a lot of fish sauce, with Chinese cooking we use a lot of soy sauce,” Tommy said while noting some of the differences in the Thai and Chinese portions of his menu.
One Pad Thai customer complimented the restaurant on its near perfect level of cutting and cooking its vegetables so they are all uniform and cooked just right, leaving just the slightest bit of crunch.
Nak, Tommy’s brother and culinary partner, points out that they cut fresh Tennessee vegetables every day, and he also expresses great pride in serving customers excellent food.
“You have to know your fire,” Nak says regarding the art and science of cooking with a wok.
He also brings up the jasmine rice the restaurant uses rather than a cheaper variety of white rice.
“A lot of people compliment us on our rice. Jasmine rice has a better aroma, it is softer,” Nak said.
He suggests for a pleased customer to try a dynamite dish at Pad Thai on his next visit. Nak also points out that Pad Thai acquires never-frozen tuna, which is more expensive than frozen fish, but said the staff is glad to deliver this quality to its customers.
Pad Thai Cafe
2568 S. Church St., Suite E
11 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Monday–Saturday
Jalapeno shrimp and squid: $12; Ginger salt chicken wings: $8.50; Spicy green papaya salad: $6; Chicken pad Thai: $8.95; Kung pao chicken: $6.45; Red, green, yellow or massaman curry with shrimp: $12