Best Thai restaurants
If you're looking for spicy, complex dishes, these are the right places.
Wed Nov 11 2009
Arharn is Thai for "food," and the dishes are as uncomplicated as the name. Ingredients are sliced, diced, wokked, tossed and sauced with rugged confidence. Chicken-coconut soup is thick and meaty, but be prepared: If you ask for it hot, you'll get it fiery. 32-05 36th Ave between 32nd and 33rd Sts, Astoria, Queens (718-728-5563. thaiastoria.com). Average main course: $10.
Beware: What Arunee's menu calls "medium spicy" is hellaciously hot. Chili peppers are sprinkled on top of many dishes, including yum pla muk, tender squid mixed with celery and lemongrass. More delicate tongues can rest easy with the rich, mild panang chicken-and-vegetable curry. 37-68 79th St between Roosevelt and 37th Aves, Jackson Heights, Queens (718-205-5559). Average main course: $8. Cash only.
The menu of this pretty little Thai restaurant attracted foodies citywide when it opened last year: Not only does it span the culinary regions of Thailand, but it includes some Japanese twists, too, thanks to the owners' experience working in Bangkok's Japanese hotels. Even if you skip the sushi-inspired dishes (like the now-famous raw shrimp appetizer), the spicy, incredibly complex curries (around $7 each) are still a radical departure from most pad thai--pushing joints. 77-08 Woodside Ave between 77th and 78th Sts, East Elmhurst, Queens (718-424-0844). Average main course: $11.
If preserved-looking varieties orchids dramatically suspended in bottles of water don't capture your attention, the beautiful people sipping cocktails made with coconut milk or fresh juices will. In warm weather, grab a seat on the small leafy patio out front and enjoy the haute Thai with a sweet accent from Executive Chef Lulzim Rexhepi. 60 Thompson Hotel, 60 Thompson St between Broome and Spring Sts (212-219-2000, kittichairestaurant.com). Average main course: $24.
A clandestine second-floor location makes this dinner-only spot feel like a true find. Chef King Phojanakong channels his culinary pedigree (including stints at Daniel and Danube), along with his Thai and Filipino heritage, into elegantly presented small plates. 113 Ludlow St between Delancey and Rivington Sts (212-353-8866, kumainn.com). Average small plate: $9. Cash only.
There's no apostrophe s, but there's definitely a real Pam—Bangkok native Pam Panyasiri. The restaurant is a family affair: Her contractor husband built the space, and her son, Timmy, manages it. You want authentic? Pam serves durian. Many Asian airlines have banned the Malaysian fruit because its smell is so vile, but Panyasiri warms its custardy flesh—stifling the stench and heightening its natural sweetness—and serves it atop coconut sticky rice. 404 W 49th St between Ninth and Tenth Aves (212-333-7500). Average main course: $8. Cash only.
The Vespa parked just inside this 60-seat spot from chef Andy Yang (Penang) announces that we're about to take a tour of Bangkok—and it's going to be fun. Though Yang is not a slave to tradition, he plays successfully with Thai technique. For instance, grilled beef carpaccio accompanied by jaew, a delightfully complex chili sauce, is a nouvelle take on Thai beef salad. 541 La Guardia Pl between Bleecker and W 3rd Sts (212-477-0600, rhong-tiam.com). Average main course: $15.
Woodside's destination eatery offers distinctive, traditional eats like catfish salad or green curry with beef: a thick, piquant broth filled out with roasted Thai eggplant. The dining rooms, which sprawl out over two levels and a garden, are packed with lip-smacking Manhattanites who can be seen eyeing the plates enjoyed by the Thai regulars, mentally filing away what to order the next time. 64-13 39th Ave between 64th and 65th Sts, Woodside, Queens (718-899-9599). Average main course: $10. Cash only.
This second project from chef King Phojanakong (Kuma Inn) is as much an achievement as its Manhattan predecessor. The enticing Southeast Asian menu is full of beer-friendly shareable plates (though it's BYO for now), and the chef also has a deft hand with seafood. 433 DeKalb Ave between Classon Ave and Taaffe Pl, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn (718-789-8806, uminom.com). Average small plate: $11.
Chowhounds rhapsodize about both Wondees with an enthusiasm that borders on mania. At the sit-down sibling to the original takeout operation, the food is deliciously authentic—a welcome change from standard satays and noodles. 813 Ninth Ave between 53rd and 54th Sts (917-286-1726). Average main course: $15.