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Let's Eat: Senae Thai Bistro Now Open in Downtown

by Kai Parmenter

Here in Tucson, we’re so fortunate to have a wide array of delicious, culturally distinct restaurants and food on hand, from traditional Southwestern and American fare to Asian, Middle Eastern and more. With the opening of Senae Thai Bistro this week in Downtown, the offerings have become even more diverse.

First opened on Thursday, July 7th, Senae Thai Bistro is located at 63 East Congress Street, in the space formerly occupied by On A Roll Sushi. Owned and operated by Amonwadee “Dee” Buizer and her husband Jim, Senae features traditional Thai cuisine, with an emphasis on authenticity, presentation and careful pairing of dishes with select beer, wine and cocktails.

But why choose Downtown for the site of their new restaurant?

“We looked everywhere,” says Jim Buizer. “We looked in Catalina Foothills, by the university, and down here, and we really kept being drawn to Downtown. We want to be part of the rebirth of Downtown…we believe Tucson is a city with a lot of history. It has a future that is yet to be defined, but it’s amazing.”

How will Senae stand out from other similar restaurants in town? “So, with the way I cook my food, I allow the natural flavor to shine, instead of bombarding it with herbs and spices,” says Dee Buizer. “It’s a subtlety you should be able to experience in every bite. The spicy, the sweet, the sour—not distinctively, but they’re all in one dish…the natural flavor of the food, it shines.”

“The quality of the food, the presentation is something that sets the restaurant apart,” says Jim Buizer. “[Dee’s] philosophy is that how someone enjoys the taste begins with the eyes…everything from service to quality of food to presentation to ambience is a step or two above.”

Prior to opening, the restaurant space underwent a significant reconstruction process, the results of which are apparent, and impressive. “It took longer than we would’ve liked,” says Dee Buizer, noting that they’re quite happy with the finished product.

Her husband agrees. “I would say a work of art takes longer than just slapping something together.”

“We’re here for the long run,” says Jim Buizer, who notes the restaurant’s emphasis on environmentally friendly design. “Energy conservation, waste management, a screen wall…there are features throughout the restaurant that are embracing John Wesley Miller’s idea of sustainability.”

Senae also relies on local sourcing for most of the ingredients in its dishes. The restaurant has paired with the University of Arizona’s Community and School Garden Program, which matches student interns with schools and community organizations, with the goal of empowering educators to develop and maintain gardens as a learning tool for elementary students.

“We linked up with the people who are running that, and they will be sourcing as much as possible for us,” says Jim Buizer. “That way we really are connecting even more with the community."

Dee and Jim Buizer are no strangers to the business, or Thai food. In fact, Senae Thai Bistro makes the eighth restaurant owned and operated by members of Dee’s family, with previous restaurants including Basil Thai in San Francisco, Sweet Basil in Bethesda, Maryland, Soi Four in Oakland and, more recently, Scottsdale.

“The name Senae, it has double meaning,” says Dee Buizer, pointing out the word is a combination of the names of her two children, and also translates as “charming” in Thai. The restaurant logo is of a white orchid, in memory of Dee's mother, who opened a Thai restaurant in San Francisco in 1968.

To learn more about Senae Thai Bistro, or to make a reservation, call 520-373-5335 or visit their website here.