When a friend and I decided to grab dinner and catch up, we were pressed with a serious predicament: where should we eat? The various communities around Carnegie Mellon’s campus — Oakland, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, the Strip District — are overflowing with restaurants of all different types of cuisine, almost too many to choose from. After we narrowed down our options to Oakland, we finally decided on Spice Island Tea House, a restaurant down Atwood Street.
Spice Island Tea House is a little hole in the wall, a short walk down Atwood. We almost passed it without realizing. The restaurant has a rustic, homey feel, with succulents growing freely in the display case, wooden walls, floors, and furniture. The place is entirely decorated in earth tones. We were there in the afternoon, during the lull period between lunch and dinner, and were the only people seated, which is rather rare in Oakland.
Founded in 1995, Spice Island Tea House specializes in all things Southeast Asian, blending flavors from Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. The menu is filled with a diversity of options, including salads, fried rice, noodles, curries, specialties grilled or stir-fried, and vegetable dishes. As indicated by the name, the restaurant has an extensive loose tea list, with choices of black, green, oolong, herbal, fruity, and scented teas. It also offers an array of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
The place is casual, and the service very quick and efficient. We immediately felt comfortable and before long, our food had arrived.
The Burmese Barbecued Chicken Thighs in yogurt-curry marinade was absolutely delicious. The chicken was very tender and juicy, and the marinade had a good balance of sweet and savory. All of the grilled and stir-fry dishes were served with steamed white rice and a side salad, which wonderfully complemented the chicken. The salad was very refreshing, and surprisingly sweet.
The Ever-Famous Pad Thai, however, left something to be desired. A good pad thai is a perfect mixture of sweetness, saltiness, sourness, and spiciness from the many different flavors. Made with stir-fried rice linguine, chicken, shrimp, bean sprout, egg, and crushed peanuts, Spice Island Tea House’s pad thai definitely had the sweetness component, but little else. While the overall taste was still good, it didn’t have the elements that make pad thai unique: the hint of spice, the pop of sweetness, the zesty lemon. The peanut taste was overwhelming, making every bite taste the same.
Since this is a tea house, we decided to try the tea of the day, Mango Indica Tea, a black tea with mango flavor. It was very good — not too sweet, not too bitter, and quite hearty.
Spice Island Tea House is wide-ranging, ensuring that there is something for everyone. It offers quality, authentic Southeast Asian food in large portions at a decent price. To top it off, it's only a short walk or trip on the bus from campus. Just steer clear of the clichéd pad thai, and you should be fine. A step above ubiquitous Chinese take-out, it’s a nice restaurant to try something new.