PRESCOTT VALLEY - Rex Cullum said Thai food is "the antithesis" of the "boring" food that he grew up with in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
"Thai food is very artistically produced," Cullum said. "It is reflective of the people that have lived frugally for centuries yet learned to produce food flavorful and abundant."
Cullum, who has worked in the restaurant industry for three decades, married a woman from Thailand, Ting, 13 years ago.
They met while she worked at her sister's restaurant, Tara Thai, in the Village of Oak Creek.
Ting trained in some of the best Thai restaurants in Los Angeles, Cullum said.
The couple opened Tara Thai II Dec. 2, 2002, in a strip center in Prescott Valley. Ting is the head chef.
Tara Thai draws clientele who are "educated, diverse, traveled and just average people that have discovered Thai food," Cullum explained.
Clientele include Vietnam War veterans who visited Thailand during their tours of duty, he said.
He uses three adjectives to describe Thai food: satisfying, lively and exotic.
Cullum said he likes the fact that Tara Thai II is family owned, adding, "We are strictly authentic. We have maintained the original connection to Thai food instead of Americanizing it."
Because owning a restaurant can be stressful, Cullum and his wife opened a Thai massage business next door about six years ago.
"Basically, we massaged each other to keep ourselves functional," he said. "Thais have a uniquely therapeutic style of massage that dates back a millennia."
He noted he has a three-year lease with the owner of the building, leaving open the possibility of moving.
Tara Thai prepares food to order, Cullum said.
"Everything is fresh and prepared here. Nothing is out of the box," he said.
He said patrons may order food served with spices ranging in potency from "zero to make you sweat."
He said he has not raised prices in at least seven years, and is contemplating adding items to the menu, which may be viewed on the restaurant's website.
Tara Thai II serves the same items for lunch and dinner, with the dinner portions tending to be larger.
The menu starts with appetizers ranging in price from $4.25 for veggie rolls to $7.95 for spicy angel wings.
Most salads cost $8.95, and soup prices cost anywhere from $9.95 to $14.95.
The lunch menu contains a variety of tofu (vegetarian) plates for $8.95, including spicy tofu, garlic tofu, and sweet and sour tofu.
Dinner entrees include specialties, curries, noodles, rice, seafood and vegetarian. A number of items cost only $10.95, including kao pad prik (spicy fried rice with choice of meat, mixed vegetables, bamboo shoots, onions and chili paste) and Thai pasta (flat noodles stir-fried with choice of meat, tomatoes, onions and bean sprouts in a seasonal sauce).
The priciest dishes are the seafood combination with ginger, spicy seafood combination and tarathai tempura special (tempura shrimp and vegetables served with chef's special sauce).
The pad items are the most popular because they are the signature dishes of Thai restaurants, Cullum said. They contain mixed vegetables, snow peas, and shrimp in a garlic sauce.
"We could keep the restaurant open if that is all we served," Cullum said.