Best Thai food in America
Heaped with praise by none other than sainted local food critic Jonathan Gold, this unassuming restaurant located in an East Hollywood strip mall specializes in the surprising—and ultra, ultra-spicy—flavors of southern Thailand. Dishes such as crispy catfish salad, dry beef curry and tiger prawns with glass noodles pack serious heat and are not for the faint of heart. But the beauty of Jitlada’s fare is that it’s always balanced, cooling the spice levels down with the complementary flavors of lime, lemongrass, cilantro and the like.
This expansive restaurant located in diverse Woodside, Queens doesn’t smooth any of traditional Thai food’s sometimes-jagged edges: the spicy dishes are authentically fiery, the sour tang of lime and lemongrass untamed by too much sugar. Don’t miss SriPraPhai’s most talked-about dish, the crispy watercress salad: delicate peppery stems of cress that are battered, deep-fried and studded with succulent squid, shrimp and chicken.
This swanky tasting menu spot located at the back of the more casual restaurant PaaDee presents a concept rarely, if ever, seen in Thai dining: course after course of elegant, highly refined Thai fare that more than justifies the meal’s high price tag. All three of Langbaan’s chefs hail from Thailand, and their intimacy with ingredients such as betel leaf, galangal and green papaya shines through in approximately 12 courses of stunning snacks, salads, soups and main plates such as Isan-style curried brisket with winter melon.
Another favorite of West Coast food god Jonathan Gold, this modest-looking restaurant is located—you guessed it!—in a strip mall. However low-key Lotus of Siam appears from the outside, inside, the kitchen is cooking up some of the most serious Thai food in America. If you skip the standard lunch buffet and leaf past the menu’s pad thai and fried rice, you’ll be rewarded with some of Northern Thailand’s most intriguing flavors. There’s pungent catfish larb, subtly spicy with dried chiles; shredded jackfruit in a porky, tomato-y sauce; khao soi, the Burmese-style coconut curry laced with egg noodles; and so much more, all of it fresh and delicious.
Little Serow (rhymes with “sparrow”) is one of those places that certainly doesn’t make it easy to get in and get a meal—it’s tiny and accepts walk-ins only—but where the food is so good, it’s worth any and every effort. The dark, intimate Dupont Circle space serves a set, family-style dinner of Northern Thai specialities—no ordering off a menu—that changes weekly and emphasizes rigorously authentic Thai ingredients including salted preserved fish, rhizomes in the ginger family, cilantro root and pork innards. The elegantly presented dishes sparkle with bold flavors that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
One of the country’s originals when it comes to replacing the bland, over-sugared pad that was once a hallmark of most American Thai restaurants with bold, exactingly authentic recipes straight from the homeland, chef Andy Ricker made a name for himself—and his eventual Pok Pok empire—when he opened this original Portland location in 2005, after nearly two decades of frequent travel to Thailand to study the food. A decade later, Pok Pok’s food remains relevant and, in fact, a revelation if it happens to be your first time eating bona fide Thai food: fresh, flavorful and exciting.
Like many of LA’s food gems, this full-service restaurant—it’s not just a diner, as the name would have you believe—is located in a strip mall. The homey, welcoming spot is particularly lauded for two of its excellent noodle dishes: Thai boat noodles, a hot, sour soup loaded with funky bits of pork skin, coagulated cubes of blood and plenty of fresh herbs; and its dry jade noodles, emerald-green strands laced with roasted pork, flaked crab, peanuts and crushed chile. You can’t go wrong with either one.
The freewheeling menu at this Nolita favorite utilizes plenty of Thai ingredients and techniques, but jumps off into not-strictly-Thai territory with dishes such as its laab, the minty, fish-saucey minced meat salad that usually features chicken or pork, and its roasted bone marrow in peanut sauce. The leaps of faith pay off, coming together in a singular vision that’s, somehow, as comforting and familiar as it is bold and new.
This Seattle storefront, true to its name, is teeny-tiny, but locals elbow in to slurp up bright, boldly flavored noodle soups: rice noodles, rich with spiced braised beef and fragrant with fried garlic; egg noodles, bathed in coconutty red curry and funkified with house-pickled Chinese mustard; bean thread noodles laced with ground pork, roasted pork and crunchy peanuts. Fearful of overly sweet pad thai? Here, the sugar comes on the side, for you to add at your own discretion.
This upscale San Fran mini-chain is a favorite among locals, prized for its un-dumbed-down renditions of funky Thai classics such as yum nahm salad, featuring raw shredded pork, and kao ka moo, stewed pork leg with mustard greens. Noodles, too, are a favorite: packed with fresh herbs and not too greasy, dishes including pad kee mow and pad see-ew are filling and delicious.