THE EXOTIC LAST SUPPER
Memories of passable pad thai and fried spring rolls quickly faded once this decade saw a determined local translate the menus of authentic eats that, until then, Thai joints had offered only to expats. These translations were the culinary equivalent of Alice falling down the rabbit hole—and Thai food in this city hasn’t been the same since. Spoon Thai, which features one of these decoded menus, makes a worthy spot to end this decade of now-accessible authentic fare.
Sit down at a window table with a couple bottles of off-dry bubbly (Trader Joe’s does an awesome blanc de blancs). Scan the tiny chalkboard up front for specials, then request the translated menu from one of the sweet servers and order all of the standouts: grilled pork neck tossed with lime juice, onion and rice powder (nam tak moo); marinated beef jerky with tamarind-chile dipping sauce (neua taet diaw); fermented rice and pork sausage with raw ginger and roasted peanuts (sai krawk Isaan); peppery fried chicken (kai thawt); deep-fried rice “salad” with Northern Thai–style pressed ham (nam khao thawt); shrimp cured in lime juice and fish sauce then topped with raw garlic and red chiles (kung chair nam plaa). For the finale, order green papaya salad with salty pickled crab (som tam puu). Afterward, walk it off to nearby Café Selmarie (4729 N Lincoln Ave, 773-989-5595). Thai food like this might be life-changing, but taro-root custard is no match for a rich European pastry. —HS
4608 N Western Ave, 773-769-1173
MORE THAI OPTIONS
TAC Quick Thai Kitchen3930 N Sheridan Rd, 773-327-5253
Grab a bottle of Riesling or some pale ale, and be sure to order the fried chicken and the green curry with omelette from the translated menu, and the crispy ong choy from the regular menu.
Sticky Rice4018 N Western Ave, 773-588-0133
Don’t miss the two styles of sausage, and zero in on the Northern Thai portion of the menu—that’s where you’ll find dishes like gang hung lay, a gingery pork curry.
Rosded2308 W Leland Ave, 773-334-9055
The translated menu mysteriously disappears and reappears at this tiny hole-in-the-wall, but servers will walk you through authentic dishes if you ask. Crispy catfish in thick red curry paste is a must.