Santa Barbara is not known for its Thai food. My personal experience is of trite décor and menus that look more like small novels. The first 20 minutes of the meal are often spent wading through pages of deep-fried appetizers, then on to an overwhelming number of entrees with endless permuta- tions of fish, meat and sauce. At TAP Thai, thankfully, there is no such chaos. The combinations are left up to the professionals; the chef decides what flavors go with what, saving us all from our untrained palettes.

The menu goes beyond your standard

Thai classics — the daily specials feature ginger sole and a delicious eggplant salad. Roasted eggplant and cucumber sit in a light, vinegar-based sauce, topped with crunchy tempura flakes and scallions: a truly unusual dish not found at many local Thai eateries. The soups are delicately f lavored with lemongrass and galangal, while the fresh rice paper rolls are filled with veggies and dipped in a light peanut sauce — a far cry from the more common, grease-laden egg rolls that look like they’ve been neglected at the back of the deep fryer all day.

But the pad thai is the real star of the show. It is the most authentic version I’ve had outside Thailand itself. The three young owners first met at architecture school in Bangkok (where pad thai is a staple street food) before pursuing their culinary dreams in the States, so you know it’s been done right. The red Panang curry is thick and creamy, paired well with a steaming bowl of brown rice.

TAP is a breath of fresh, lemongrass- scented air for the Santa Barbara Asian food scene. The menu is small and well-crafted,

the prices are student-friendly and the decor is fresh and original. The modern interior features playful wall paintings of Thai ingre- dients, and Thai iced tea is served in huge Mason jars, adding a nice homey touch. TAP distinguishes itself as a “healthy Thai restaurant,” with sticky rice desserts and plenty of fresh veggie dishes.

But I must warn you: Don’t come specifi- cally for the service. You’re not going to come out BFFs for life with the waitress, but I can almost guarantee you will have a full belly and a big smile.