Best Thai food in Boston
Who knew that Watertown housed the city’s most creative Thai restaurant? Chef Manita Bunnagitkam spent years cooking in hotel restaurants—as well as under celebrity chef Todd English—before returning to her love for Thai techniques and opening her first restaurant in 2014. She incorporates only the freshest ingredients to turn out dishes unlike any you’ve ordered from your local takeout spot; little wonder that Cha Yen began raking in accolades barely a year after opening. Starters include quail eggs and a shrimp “donut” made from fried shrimp paste; main course standards include pineapple fried rice, Khai soi brisket and a potent panang curry. But all of this is really an excuse to order the restaurant’s homemade ice cream, whipped up using the chef’s secret, constantly tweaked recipe. Flavors change weekly, but look for choices like jasmine thai basil, spicy chocolate, strawberry basil sorbet and thai iced coffee.
It must first be said that Tiger Mama is not a Thai restaurant per se, but rather one inspired by Southeast Asian cuisine. With that out of the way: it’s also divine. Chef Tiffani Faison was inspired by culinary adventures in Bangkok and beyond to bring some of that revelatory heat back to Beantown. The frothy, flavor-packed tom kha gai (chicken coconut soup) is poured out of a tea pitcher tableside; the pad gra pow, topped with a fried egg, is one of those umami-packed dishes that you won’t want to share. Then there’s the pig rice, chock full of bacon, tasso ham and Thai issan sausage. The tiki drinks are kitschy, potent and oversized—leaving just enough room to end your meal with a sweet Thai tea tres leches.
For 25 years now, this prescient spot has fed diners first-rate takes on all the classics: golden triangles, drunken noodles, panang curry and pad krapow. Even the thai iced tea is a standout, served with a paper rose on top of the straw. But it’s when you get to the restaurant’s dinner-only specialities that Equator’s kitchen truly shines—chili duck, avocado shrimp and soft shell crab garlic being three must orders. Equator caters to many a lunchtime professional and nighttime takeout regular, but don’t skip on the opportunity to dine in: the mood lighting and sumptuous decor add an air of intrigue to the place. During the summer, take advantage of the outdoor seating.
When Montien’s second outpost in Inman Square shuttered in 2009, the cries of a thousand Cantabrigians could be heard across the harbor. Thankfully, the original Theatre District location, open since 1986, is alive and kicking. Family operated, Montien exudes kindness in its service and generosity in its entree portions. Specialties include a roasted duck curry and poo-nim-rad-prik (crispy soft shell crabs with sweet basil chili sauce), both of which appear on the “authentic Thai” menu (the noodle soups are also a standout). But don’t feel ashamed ordering from the more Americanized side of the menu: Many regulars return for the winter shrimp rolls, basil fried rice and a pad thai that is regularly touted as the best in the city. Insider tip: the cocktails are surprisingly (and welcomingly) potent.
Everyone has a favorite Rod Dee location but what’s consistent across all four outposts is the authenticity of the cuisine. Start with the scallion pancakes and Thai crab nuggets before moving onto the entrees. With such a wide-ranging menu, you’re best served by zooming in on the specialties, especially the pad thai with crispy chicken, the boat noodle soup and the mango crispy duck. But then you’ll smell the dishes at the next table, suffer from order envy and realize you’ll need to come back and explore the more traditional noodle and stir-fry dishes. Just leave room for dessert, especially the fried banana with honey and the mango with sticky rice. Make sure to hit the ATM beforehand, because all outposts are cash only.
Anyone who lives or works in the Back Bay has dropped more than a few pennies at Chili Duck. The massive menu lets you indulge in many a craving: wonton shrimp and mango fried rice one night, maybe papaya salad and masaman curry the next. The house specialties include a few unconventional dishes like beef macadamia and the eponymous chili duck, which is revelatory; vegetarians rejoice over the spicy tofu and vegetable hot basil stir-fry. Chili Duck does a robust takeout business, but the fire pot specials are worth an in-person visit, the roasted duck version especially.
If you can handle the steady throng of Berklee and Northeastern students, you might just have landed on your new favorite lunch spot. The extensive daytime menu lets you indulge in some of your favorite dishes at a lesser cost, from mango curry to gaprow chicken to a cheaper-than-usual pad thai. At dinner, things admittedly get more interesting, courtesy of the lobster pad ped, the Seafood Volcano (basically a robust curry with scallops, shrimp and salmon) and the Old Lady Spicy, a chef’s specialty of spicy sauteed eggplant.
This local favorite has long been noted for its authenticity, its fresh ingredients and its warm atmosphere (if you can resist the siren call of takeout). Brown Sugar preps dishes from all regions of Thailand, which involve a lot of clay pot cooking and lesser known dishes like Kai-jeow Moo-sub (minced pork omelet); those feeling adventurous can ask the waitstaff to guide them through the authentic Thai dishes. Feeling wary? Opt for the chive dumplings, country-style pad thai and pineapple fried rice instead. All should order the Siamese Twins, a mix of sweet and sour chicken and shrimp served in a pineapple shell.
A gift to the herbivore community, this hidden, second-floor spot is guilt-free dining at its finest. Don’t sweat the sketchy entrance—just know that once you get upstairs, you’ll have found a meatless nirvana. Portions are generous, prices are reasonable and dishes are as delectable as their carnivorous counterparts. Notable specials include the avocado medley with yellow curry, the freshly cut coconut with veggies and red curry and the crisp noodles served with tofu, “shrimp” and “beef.” In fact, all of the imitation meat dishes are striking in how unnotable they are—which is to say, you’d never guess that you’re not eating meat. The menu is massive—more than 150 dishes—so plan on returning to the premise again and again.
Thai takeout may be your standard weeknight fare but, once in a while, you want to leave the house and have your tamarind duck among the masses. Enter Sugar & Spice. The modernistic interior belies the authenticity of the cuisine; this is thrilling Thai cooking in a sophisticated setting. You might be stymied by the sheer number of choices—more than 100 dishes—but thankfully, it’s hard to go wrong. Boat noodle soup, crispy pork belly gaprow and duck basil are just a few of the highlights; native Thai appetizers include e-san sausage and spicy shrimp lemongrass. Come summer, the front patio is a lovely place at which to while away an afternoon, especially with the fresh flowers in the planters and a fresh mango shake in your hand.