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Creative Cascade

The Tropical blends a beachy surf-and-turf menu alongside a variety of curry dishes, stir-fry, vegetarian and vegan options, carefully crafted by experienced Thai chefs using a few “magical” nuances.

Article
Michele Chiappetta
Photos
Marc Rains
Posted
March 29, 2017

You’ve heard the expression “hidden gem” a million times, but if it is ever true of anything, then it is true of a charming, beautifully designed, superbly executed restaurant known as The Tropical. Open since 2011, The Tropical delivers the cuisine of Southeast Asia, specifically Thailand, with a smile and an impressive taste that will leave you hungering to return again and again. And it’s unique in more ways than one.

One of the more unusual aspects of The Tropical is simply its location — situated just off the main drag of Memorial Avenue, you could easily miss it as you drive by, unless you know exactly where it is. When asked if that’s a challenge, Tana Karnchanakphan, who owns the restaurant alongside his parents, smiles.

“Usually how we do things in my family and how we’ve been successful is that we’ve always relied on word-of-mouth,” he says. “We’ve always had the mantra that if we bring a great experience and bring great food to the table, people will come. And we’ve been blessed enough that people have found us hidden away in this little nook.”

And it’s true. No matter what time you swing by The Tropical for a drink or a meal, you’re sure to watch a steady stream of people enter and leave. It’s no wonder why, either. The stellar food and dining experience make this cozy spot excellent when you want Asian food done right.

The building resembles a well kept home that you might find in one of Tulsa’s older residential neighborhoods. Once you step inside, however, it’s another world — with richly colored wood, clean and modern seating, and stunning southeast Asian wood bas-reliefs.

“People are really shocked when they come in and get to see what we’ve done and added to the place,” Karnchanakphan says. “We literally are a diamond in the rough. When you go there, you don’t really have any expectations. And then when you go inside, you’re wowed and hopefully our food does the same.”

The Tropical's Chicken Red Curry
Chicken Red Curry (Photo: Marc Rains)

The repeat customers prove that the food does, indeed, wow fans of Asian food. The Tropical blends a beachy surf-and-turf menu alongside a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes, carefully crafted by experienced Thai chefs. Alongside pad Thai and other traditional dishes, diners can also enjoy fresh grilled seafood such as butterfly rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon, jumbo sea scallops, Chilean sea bass and lobster tail served with your choice of sauce, toppings and sides. There are also curry dishes, stir-fry options, and even a certified Angus New York strip, served with Thai flavorings.

These delicious dishes are very much like chemistry concoctions — the kitchen staff brings the flavor by stirring the food just the right amount of times, adding the sauces in at just the right moment and just the right temperature. The science of it is almost impossible to recreate at home. “There’s some hidden magic back there [in the kitchen],” Karnchanakphan says.

The Tropical’s previous head chef retired not too long ago, replaced by a kitchen veteran that Karnchanakphan and his parents have worked with for many years. “The new head chef, Nantana, has been working with us since we opened up the original Lanna Thai [in 1998], so it speaks to how everything works in our company. It’s very hand-me-down knowledge and everyone’s trained by everyone else, and everyone is together,” he says.

The Tropical's Trout Pad Ped
Trout Pad Ped (Photo: Marc Rains)

Another unique aspect of The Tropical is the emphasis on vegetarian options. “A lot of the dishes can be made or can be ordered as a vegan or a vegetarian option,” says Karnchanakphan. “Our signature appetizer item is the Tropical lettuce wrap, which is super popular.” It’s a mix of crispy rice with fresh herbs (scallions, red onions, cilantro, carrots and fresh mint), glass noodles, peanuts, and a twist of lime.

“Everyone orders it when they come in,” Karnchanakphan adds. “Not many people realize it’s actually vegan. It’s always a surprise when they’re made aware of it. They say, ‘I didn’t know that vegan food could taste so good.’”

That delicious flavor is augmented by fresh ingredients, including herbs and vegetables grown in The Tropical’s garden, which is yet another unique aspect to the restaurant, and which visitors can see and enjoy as they walk from the parking lot to the front entrance. “We always try to plant stuff in our garden, just so that we can add a level of fresh flavor, whether it’s basil, lemongrass, and other common Thai herbs,” Karnchanakphan says.

All in all, it adds up to an amazing experience worth a cruise down Memorial to find.

LOCATOR
The Tropical
8125 E. 49th St. | Tulsa
918-895-6433
tropicaltulsa.com
Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-11 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-10 p.m.

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