A few years back, the little Thai takeout storefront in the Lake Edge Shopping Center on Monona Drive was called Thai House and had excellent food, a very small menu and extremely limited hours -- something like 5-8 pm Monday through Friday. Back in those days, I liked to refer to it as "The Thai place that's never open."
That was then, this is now.
It's now called Thai Garden, it has an expanded menu, and the hours are more like you would expect a restaurant to have. The downside is that the food, while still good enough, isn't quite as good as it used to be. At the old place, I felt the food was close to what you'd get if you were invited to a Thai household for dinner. Or maybe I'm just idealizing. Memories....
Thai Garden's menu isn't as ambitious as, say, Sa-Bai Thong's, but it covers the basics, from pad thai ($7.50) to pho ($7.50), and the curries (red, green, panang, massaman, and squash, $8), and the spicy lime- and lemon-grass-infused tom yum soup ($3). Choose your protein -- tofu, chicken, beef, or pork; or for a dollar extra add squid, shrimp, or seafood combination.
My standard dish for comparing Thai restaurants is red squash curry, and I found nothing to complain about -- I liked it almost as well as my favorite (from Vientiane Restaurant on Park Street). It was spicy to my order (medium) and the squash was well done -- sometimes the squash in this dish can be a little undercooked and chewy.
Also good: the thai basil with beef ($8) and the ginger catfish ($9), with fresh ginger, red peppers, bamboo and carrots. The catfish is a house special -- others include red curry duck, pineapple curry duck, and crispy duck (all $10), and red curry catfish ($9). In general, the catfish dishes work better than the duck.
One negative experience came with a recent lunch takeout of the red curry with chicken. (The lunch specials, served from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. weekdays, are just cheaper versions of the regular dishes -- they don't come with soup and an eggroll, as many luncheon specials tend to.) The grease on this entree was phenomenal. It soaked through the cardboard takeout container, not just the bottom but the sides. It soaked the paper bag. It soaked the paper towels I set it on. I have never seen so much grease emerge from a small cardboard container in my life. Nonetheless, the curry was tasty -- sure, why wouldn't it be, with all that grease? -- and a generous portion for $6.25. But less oil would be welcome.
Thai Garden has three or four tables and a counter for eat-in, but for east-siders it's a convenient location for takeout, and nicely sited to pick up food for picnics at Winnequah or Olbrich.
If Thai Garden were right next door to Vientiane Restaurant, I'd probably go to Vientiane. But it's a happy addition to the Asian food offerings on the east side beyond Willy Street.