If you’re craving grub from the best Thai restaurant, NYC is the perfect place to step up your takeout game. Yes, Thai joints are a dime a dozen, but there’s much more to the southeast Asian cuisine than the cartons of pad thai and greasy spring rolls you might order at your go-to delivery restaurants. While getting authentic Thai is still one of the best things to do in Queens, neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen and the East Village are home to traditional dishes and inventive new takes on regional fare. Dig into piquant bowls of khao soi from the northeastern Isan region, spicy papaya salads and some of the best dumplings in town at these Thai restaurants in NYC.
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Best Thai restaurants in NYC
Beware: What Arunee's menu calls "medium spicy" is hellaciously hot. Chili peppers are sprinkled on top of many dishes, including goong sheah num pla, raw shrimp with garlic, chili and a Thai spicy sauce. More delicate tongues can rest easy with the rich, mild mussamun chicken-and-vegetable curry.
The menu of this pretty little Thai restaurant attracts foodies citywide: Not only does it span the culinary regions of Thailand, but it includes twists from Japanese food, too, thanks to the owners’ experience working in Bangkok’s Japanese hotels. Even if you skip the sushi-inspired dishes (like the oft-name-checked raw shrimp appetizer), the spicy, incredibly complex curries (around $10) are still a radical departure from most pad thai–pushing joints.
If the refreshing flavors of Somtum Der are any indication, Isan cuisine is the antidote to the too-sweet noodles Americans commonly mistake for Thai food. Take a seat in the bright, wood-paneled dining room, and soon you’ll see why the restaurant, which also boasts locations in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, recently earned a Michelin star. Som tum is the namesake dish of the eatery, a papaya salad made in several variations. Choose the Tum Thai Kai Kem: It’s flecked with bits of soft-cooked, salted egg yolks, which provide a soothing counterpoint to the heat of the chilies. It hurts so good, so get it as spicy as you can stand.
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 Thai regulars, mentally filing away what to order the next time.
Uncle Boons is the latest in a riptide of upstarts repackaging homey Asian food. At this dark-wood-paneled rathskeller, you’ll find tap wine and beer slushes and vintage Thai flatware carved from teak and brass. The stereo blares old Thai covers of ’70s American rock and pop songs. And the kitchen has fine-dining muscle: Husband-and-wife team Matt Danzer and Ann Redding met while cooking at Per Se. Danzer and Redding (who is from Thailand) have unburdened themselves with a close reading of tradition. Take their rendition of larb (laab plaa duk), which instead of the usual chicken, duck, beef or pork, highlights a regional favorite: catfish. You’re caught off guard when the trinity of fish, cucumber and mint first hits you.
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 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 snack features chicken parts obliterated over an open flame. Or opt for the fried chicken (kai tod), succulent meat marinated in a tenderizing mix of Thai herbs and lime.
This small Hell’s Kitchen canteen by husband-and-wife team David and Vanida Bank of Land Thai Kitchen is a gem among the dozens of Thai–American restaurants lining Ninth Avenue. Foodies rave about this authentic hole-in-the-wall serving budget-friendly wok dishes and crowd pleasers like the Ratchaburi homemade egg noodles with crab and roasted pork.
Head to this Astoria charmer for traditional Thai street food and noodle soups dished out in a space that channels old-school Bangkok. Tables feature tin water cups straight from Thailand and plastic holders for chili sauce, sugar and other condiments that accompany bowls of beef boat noodles topped with crispy pork rinds.
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 cilantro and mint.
While this Upper East Side restaurant delivers (pun intended), it’s worth digging into classic Thai dishes in the restaurant’s 70-seat, rustic wood-paneled dining room adorned with mosaic lights and floral accents. On a casual night out, it’s the perfect place to devour fragrant bowls of curry, green papaya salad and bite-size chicken and potato curry puffs. Wash your meal down with a mason jar of yuzu lemonade made with a mix of mandarin and lemon juices.
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Senn: Thai Comfort Food
Sometimes even the most hardcore food adventurers need to take a break from the palate thrill-seeking that has made Elmhurst and Woodside the go-to destinations for enthusiasts of authentic Thai cuisine. For Upper West Siders looking for something a little simpler and a little closer to home, Senn Thai Comfort Food fits the bill. Located on Amsterdam Avenue next door Land Thai Kitchen, this under the radar spot is typically less crowded and more low-key than the long-time neighborhood favorite. Outfitted with corrugated metal walls, a large communal table and a shady bathroom that seems to be forever occupied, the restaurant has a rustic, unpretentious feel that is a marked contrast to the over the top glitz of many Thai establishments in Manhattan. That same simple aesthetic shows in the menu as well, which serves up unpolished home-style fare that might not be as glamorous as Chiang Mai khao soi or eye-opening as Isaan som tum, but can still please in its own way. This being a neighborhood spot in an area not otherwise known for on-trend Asian dining, you're not likely to find the type of pungent flavors that have endeared Northern Thai cooking to so many foodies, but there are a few hidden gems to be found. The crispy rice salad, yum kao tod ($8) is a must-order starter. While there were no signs of the advertised crispy fish described on the menu, the crackling sheets of deep-fried red curry-rubbed rice tossed with herbs and ginger are still an addictive symphony of spic
Venue says: “We serve prix fix lunch special $9 from noon-3.30pm every day.”