This is one of many photos, so make sure to scroll to the end!
Do you like Thai food? Discovering fun gems in Tampa? Or maybe you just wake up on some Sunday mornings and feel like doing something that isn’t church? Whichever scenario fits, Thai Temple is for you.
The short of it is that the people of the Wat Mongkolratanara (Wat Tampa to Thai people, Thai Temple to the rest of us) started a Sunday market, in 1993, to raise money for the temple. Back then, it was only two tables. It has since grown into a large market that sells fresh, prepared Thai style foods, grilled items, fresh vegetables and even plants. There’s also a larger area, complete with picnic tables, trash cans and tables for leftover dishes, where visitors can eat, converse and enjoy the surrounding beauty of the Temple grounds.
Most of the food can be purchased on the large, covered, wrap around wooden deck at the center of the grounds. To the far right of the deck is another, smaller area with a grill and tables. There, you can get the grilled items, fresh fruits and vegetables and other things for your garden.
My first visit to Thai Temple was about 2 or 3 years ago. Even in such a short time, I have literally watched the Temple transform. They’ve acquired an extra lot for parking and a new sea wall/dock area, with extra benches, to border the lake the temple sits upon. The sea wall is a welcome improvement, considering people bring their animals and children to Thai Temple. Before, you could just jump off a slight embankment into the water below.
These improvements are also a sign of financial progress. Once you visit, you’ll understand how they’ve managed to accumulate the money. This place gets PACKED. By noon, the grounds resemble a popular food festival, kind of like a mini Taste of Pinellas. On my last visit, I arrived at 10:30 a.m. Upon exiting my car, I heard one, of many, men that direct traffic yell into his walkie talkie, “What? Are you sure? Well, I only have 40 parking spots left on this side!”
ONLY 40 spaces left? That’s serious. Especially since the dang market doesn’t start until 10 am! If you want to visit, GET THERE EARLY! Also, be conscious that any stand can run out of food, at any time. If you see people swarming a station and you know you want something, put in your order right away, otherwise you may miss out!
The above dish consists of red curry and ginger chicken on white rice.
So now, what you’re really wondering about. How is the food? The best way to describe the cooking is homemade. The food is made by the men and women of the temple. That means that things may taste different each time you come. This isn’t fine Thai cuisine, which may disappoint someone who’s only eaten Thai at their favorite restaurant, but for me, it’s definitely part of the charm. You walk through and try new items and see how you feel about them. And if it wasn’t to your liking, you haven’t been stuck with a big bill and a tip to leave. If you are a regular Thai eater and prefer a little spice, be prepared to hit up the spice racks that sit around, as all food is prepared mild. Given the large amount of people that visit, this is to be expected. Better to allow people to add their own spice than run anyone off with an extremely spicy dish.
While I enjoy eating at Thai Temple, I visit for the EXPERIENCE as a whole, rather than specifically for the food. I’ve had better at my favorite Thai restaurants, but a big part of that has to do with you having more control over the dining experience. With that being said, there are definitely some hidden gems. The fresh shrimp rolls that I purchase are always better, and bigger, than what I get in Thai restaurants. It’s all a matter of finding your own gem!
Below, you’ll find market hours, useful information and anything else I think is pertinent for a first-time visitor to know. You’ll also find more photos of the grounds and food! Get out there one Sunday and experience it for yourself!
Wat Mongkolratanara (Thai Temple)
5306 Palm River Rd.
Tampa, Florida 33619
Thai Temple Website
Sunday Market Time: 10am-1pm (The market can last as late as 2 pm, depending on what’s left for sale.)
- BRING CASH! This place does not accept credit cards. Prices range from $1 (for an egg roll or curry puff) to $7 (for a plate with two entrees and rice).
- ONLY park on the Temple Grounds. DO NOT park at the Church across the street. They will tow your car. Usually a police officer is there in the early morning hours during service, but if the cop isn’t there, please don’t think it means you’re safe.
- Arrive Early! Vendors will run out of food, sometimes before the market ends. Lines also get very long. I have arrived late and waited as long as 20 minutes in one line. Given how quickly the men and women move to serve everyone, that says something.
- Drinks are available for purchase. There is a water/soda station near one of the staircases, but you can also visit one of the many vendor stations for traditional drinks like Thai Tea or Coconut Juice.
- The market is animal-friendly. The dog must be nice, well behaved, comfortable with crowds and on a leash. I personally wouldn’t recommend you bring a pet unless you have a friend to watch it while you gather food. You can’t have animals on the food deck.
- Bring the kids! It’s a fun, family atmosphere, but the crowd gets very large, so be prepared to keep a close eye on the kids.
- I recommend you bring a bag to hold your food in. Then do a walk through of the main deck where most of the food vendors are. Once you know everything you want to get, go back to the beginning of the deck and work your way forward, purchasing items and sticking them in your bag.
- If you want soup, MAKE IT YOUR FINAL PURCHASE. The soup line is more akin to an assembly line. The cooks will ask what you want (Big bowl or little bowl, Thin noodle or skinny noodle, Beef or Pork) and you have to talk fast because they move quickly and will yell at you about holding up the line! Soup is popular (and delicious!) so expect a long line after 11 am. The soup is served in a big bowl on a tray, so once you purchase it your hands are full. By the time you grab soup, you should be ready to find a picnic table to eat on.
- Don’t forget to visit the grill/garden station. It’s off to the side and easy to miss once you’re caught up on the main deck, but totally worth visiting. You can buy fresh items, maybe get some delicious grilled chicken wings or a buy some pretty plants. They also carve fruit into designs and give out samples.
- You can and should go inside the actual temple. It’s really pretty inside! And a welcome respite from the Florida sun, as they have the AC pumping inside. You have to take your shoes off and leave any bags outside the temple, but nobody really touches your stuff. You can also sit in there for a Q&A about the temple or you can pray. It’s up to you. I’m not sure if you can take pictures inside, but I got some anyway!
Check Out More Food Pics! (Top to Bottom) Curry Puffs, Fried Bananas, Beef Soup and finally, a plate of pad thai and ginger chicken with an egg roll, curry puff, water and a Thai tea.
A Final Laugh: Can you spot the typo below?!