It was 7pm on a Tuesday night and I had a hankering for a good Massaman curry. Friends had recommended Thai Thai restaurant in Volcano, saying it was the best Thai on the island, so I took the one-hour drive from Pahoa through darkness and drizzle and finally arrived in the tiny town of Volcano, situated just a mile from Kilaeua Volcano. Volcano Village is located at an elevation of 3800 feet, and Thai Thai Restaurant is situated inside of a building that resembles a log-cabin. The mountain-village ambience of the place as well as the distinctly cooler outdoor temperature was a refreshing change from the tropical coast of the Puna area. As I walked into the restaurant, I was greeted by smiling, friendly staff. It was spacious and airy inside, and authentically Thai.
I can always tell a good Thai restaurant by its Massaman curry. I ordered this dish, which was a reliable favorite of mine, and chose the version with sliced beef short ribs, a side of rice and a cranberry juice. The staff at Thai Thai were gracious and friendly, but I was surprised to discover they had a rather limited selection of non-alcoholic beverages – only pineapple, cranberry or guava juice. The alcoholic selection seemed a little broader.
However the menu selections were varied and interesting, and reasonably priced.The dish arrived within ten minutes and was delightful. The spices were distinct and aromatic to the palate. It was definitely one of the better curries I have had on the islands, authentic in taste - but still not at all comparable to a curry in a city location. I have had the pleasure of dining in New York City and my palate is forever discerning. Hawaii is just not yet leading the world in its culinary endeavors, although Oahu definitely has some great restaurants.
A warning – when I asked for medium, the waitress thankfully mentioned that would be a 7 on the ‘hot’ (1 through 10) scale and so I switched to mild-medium. However as I tasted the dish I wished I had asked for mild, as it was still extremely spicy! So be aware to scale down your spice preference as it will be quite a few notches hotter than what you might expect. Perhaps it is the proximity of an active volcano that inspires the chefs to be a little heavy-handed with the chili!
Jade the manager was very friendly and eager to offer local hints on visiting the volcano at night to witness the orange glow. The enthusiastic 18-year-old manages the restaurant with her father while her mother does most of the cooking. They have owned and operated the restaurant for years. This family-owned business is obviously a well-known and loved local icon as it seemed the clientele were from both near and afar. A sign of a good restaurant in a tourist location is the presence of local families as well as visitors.
If you are looking for a good Thai restaurant on Big Island, be sure to stop at Thai Thai. If you are heading to the volcano during the day, you will be pleased to know they are also open for lunch. Open daily 12-9pm.