Best Thai food in New York

Explore funky, spicy, complex and challenging flavors at these 10 outstanding Thai food restaurants in New York City.

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Photograph: Lizz Kuehl

Kai tod at Zabb Elee

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Jungle curry at Ayada

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Photograph: Lizz Kuehl

Pok Pok Ny

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Photograph: Jeffrey Gurwin

Kittichai

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Michael Harlan Turkell

Kuma Inn

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Pam Real Thai Food

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Photograph: Marielle Solan

Sripraphai

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Photograph: Dave Sanders

Shrimp Pad Thai at Wondee Siam V

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Roasted clams at Umi Nom

It seems like there’s a Thai food restaurant on every corner in New York. But the neutered pad Thai we scarf from a carton in front of the television is about as genuinely Asian as chicken chow mein. Until recently, in fact, the only Thai noodles and curries not tempered for the American palate were sequestered in Queens. But that’s changed over the past few years, as high-profile restaurants and far-flung chowhound favorites have begun to set up shop in Manhattan and Brooklyn. To bring you the very best of New York City’s Thai food, we’ve eaten our way through fiery soups, curries, noodles and more, and compiled it all in this handy list. Did we miss your favorite Thai food spot? Join the conversation in the comments.

Zabb Elee

Critics' pick

Although Thai menus in America can seem homogeneous, the country’s cuisine is rather diverse. Which is why there’s a good chance you won’t recognize much of the fare at Zabb Elee. The low-key basement spot focuses on the fiery, funky foods of northern Thailand, and the roster is a challenging one, with categories like tod (fried meats), som tum (papaya salads) and yang (grilled meats) making up the more than five dozen choices. You wanted real Thai food, it taunts, let’s see what you’ve got. How about a tiny skewer of blackened gizzards? The $2 snack features chicken parts obliterated over an open flame. Red-curry fish custard (hor mok) is light like a seafood soufflé, and the fried chicken (kai tod) offers succulent meat marinated in a tenderizing mix of Thai herbs and lime. While you’ll certainly find food of this caliber in Thai enclaves out in Queens, on this side of the river it’s still a real treat.

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East Village

Ayada

Critics' pick

The menu of this pretty little Thai restaurant attracts foodies citywide: 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 oft-namechecked raw shrimp appetizer), the spicy, incredibly complex curries (around $7) are still a radical departure from most pad thai–pushing joints.

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Queens

Pok Pok Ny

Critics' pick

What separates Pok Pok from other cultish Thai restaurants, like Sripraphai in Queens, is the curatorial role of Andy Ricker, its minutiae-mad chef. Ricker, who flavors the water here with pandanus leaf and presses his own coconuts for cream, focuses mostly on the funky fare of northern Thailand. His long menu—concise by Thai restaurant standards—features a beautifully burnished and terrifically succulent barbecued hen. Ricker goes the extra mile to get the condiments right. He accompanies the room-temperature pork neck slices in his “Thai drinking food,” muu kham waan with raw mustard greens delivered under a crunch-intensifying heap of crushed ice. Even his cha ca “La Vong,” a geographic anomaly from across the border in Vietnam, is a spot-on reproduction of the original dish, a cult favorite from Hanoi featuring spiced catfish, rice vermicelli, and generous handfuls of fresh dill and mint. The desserts here are as much cultural artifacts as everything else.

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Cobble Hill

Kittichai

If preserved 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.

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Soho

Kuma Inn

Critics' pick

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, such as an omelette studded with plump Washington Bay oysters, and hunks of seared ahi tuna luxuriating in a spicy miso vinaigrette. Desserts like the coconut ginger rice pudding, and a custardy twist on key lime pie made with kalamansi, might inspire you to keep your discovery close to your vest.

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Lower East Side

Pam Real Thai Food

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.

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Hell's Kitchen

Sripraphai

Critics' pick

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.

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Woodside

Wondee Siam V

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.

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Upper West Side

Umi Nom

Critics' pick

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: The deep-fried chicken drumettes justify a visit on their own, with their crisp skin and bracing condiments of fish sauce, lime juice and vibrant Anaheim peppers. Those same scorchers grace wok-roasted Manila clams submerged in a funky, fermented black-bean sauce enriched with butter. Phojanakong’s deft hand with seafood is also evident in his succulent head-on prawns in an excellent broth of Thai chilies, garlic, onion and fish sauce. Pour the leftover sauce over a side of fluffy garlic rice.

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Bedford-Stuyvesant

Arunee Thai Cuisine

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.

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Queens

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