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Anya's Thai Bistro

It may not be as cool as creekside dining, but a new Thai restaurant situated below street level at the edge of Ashland's downtown feels like a refuge both from summer's heat and the tourist season.

For a town that offers more culinary diversity than anywhere else in the Rogue Valley, Ashland needed more Thai food. Anya's Thai Bistro stepped in about a month ago with lunch, lower-cost dinners and a casual setting within walking distance of the town's major attractions.

Yet it seems like Anya's has been in the Underground Marketplace much longer. The food is expertly prepared, the service is efficiently attentive (even a tad too solicitous) and the pleasant atmosphere is comfortably anchored in the subterranean space.

Locals apparently have buoyed the business, which includes a brisk trade in takeout, judging from my recent weekday visit.

I took it as a good sign that the staff asked for the preferred level of spice upon taking my order. Anya's menu marks the spicier dishes but encourages customers to customize to their tastes.

The bill of fare is similar to many other local Thai restaurants. However, it soon became obvious that Anya's is of a higher order, justifying the higher price tag compared with counterparts in Medford, but a bit less than other Thai food in Ashland.

Lunch prices range from $9.25 for chicken and tofu entrees to $10.75 for shrimp. Four curries, four noodle dishes, six stir-fries and two types of fried rice are offered. Thailand's quintessential tom yum and coconut-milk soups cost $5.95 for chicken or tofu, $6.95 with shrimp. Appetizers are chicken satay ($7), potstickers ($6), spring rolls ($5.50) and fresh salad rolls ($4.50).

The menu is the same for dinner, with prices raised just a bit.

I was delighted with my choice of appetizer after three enormous spring rolls arrived at the table almost quicker than I could sit down and fill a glass from the water carafe. It should have been obvious these were house-made, rather than yet another of the packaged, frozen versions passed off at so many Asian eateries. I confirmed the fact anyway, then reveled in the perfectly crisp layers of rice paper yielding to the light, not compacted, filling of glass noodles accented with a bit of finely diced veggies.

Likewise, my pad thai tasted prepared to order, right down to the tofu. So many restaurants batch-fry large quantities of meat and bean curd, which develops a leathery exterior and spongy texture. The tofu at Anya's was still creamy, with a nice wok-sear on it.

And if pad thai seems like a safe choice, I so often find it disappointingly one-note. Anya's peanut sauce struck the perfect balance between sweet and savory with the inclusion of fish sauce just evident.

I ate sparingly of the noodles after those spring rolls but also because an order of sticky rice with mango ($5.50) was on its way. A seasonal special, Anya's dessert featured generous slices of perfectly ripe mango alongside an equally generous portion of rice redolent of coconut water. The dish achieved the essential, slightly bitter counterpoint with a thick layer of sesame seeds atop the rice.

No alcohol service is offered at Anya's, but the beverage menu includes Asia's beloved "bubble" teas, smoothies, Thai-style iced tea and coffee, canned sodas and flavored mineral waters, as well as 15 types of hot tea. Perusing the tea list later online, I wished I'd ordered — despite the day's heat — oolong, white peony or organic "gunpowder" green tea.

Anya's provides an ideal spot for solo diners to linger over cups of tea with a bar-height counter overlooking the Underground Market's common space. Hopefully, Anya's appeal will bring more tenants to the mini mall, empty except for the restaurant.

Read more about the owner's culinary background and family's food history on the restaurant's website.

— Sarah Lemon