Thai restaurants are fairly ubiquitous in Seattle, though they can be uninspiring with many of the menus looking alike. Dishes like pad thai, green curry, and green papaya salad are everywhere, but are often dumbed down to American tastes. With so many to choose from, Eater has recommendations of Thai restaurants that rise above the rest, along with specific dishes to try.
1. Araya’s Vegetarian Place
An outgrowth of Araya’s Vegetarian Place in the University District, this Araya’s is ironically serving meat substitutes in the former home of foie gras: Rover’s. The flavors they’re producing are fantastic. Recommended dishes include “Drunken Mushroom”—wide rice noodles with portabello, shiitake, and white mushrooms (and mushroom sauce substituting for fish sauce)—and avocado curry.
2. Bai Tong Thai Restaurant
While it’s gone downhill a bit since its heyday as a hangout for the Thai Airways flight crews that came through Sea-Tac Airport in the 90’s, it was a high hill—so the quality remains good. Some travel from Seattle to Tukwila for the gai hor bai toey (pandan-wrapped chicken), though also noteworthy are seafood dishes like hor mok (salmon and red curry steamed in a banana leaf).
3. Buddha Ruksa
With an elegant and yet inviting atmosphere, Buddha Ruksa has been a popular destination for dining in West Seattle for a good ten years. “Bags of Gold” are a great way to start; these fried dumplings of sorts are filled with shrimp, chicken, shiitake mushrooms, and water chestnuts. Other menu highlights include crispy garlic chicken and crispy duck that’s available six different ways.
4. Little Uncle Pioneer Square
[Note: The Pioneer Square location has closed.] Success from a walk-up window on Madison Avenue in Capitol Hill spawned a weekday lunch-only restaurant in Pioneer Square. A small menu of selected dishes at slightly elevated prices reflects the use of quality ingredients. Look for khao mun gai (poached chicken), ma sa ba (roti stuffed with curried lamb), and a vegetarian version of pad thai that happens to be gluten-free.
5. Mai Thaiku
Ballard’s Thaiku reemerged in Phinny Ridge as Mai Thaiku, serving a “new” menu in an “old” bungalow. The menu features a fascinating variety of som tahm (green papaya salads), and dishes like young jackfruit and chicken thigh in a northern Thai herbal broth are intriguing. And then there’s Fu Kun Wu within: a tiny bar with apothecary-like ambiance that serves aphrodisiacal drinks.
6. Noodle Boat Thai Restaurant
Diehard Thai fans make the pilgrimage to Issaquah’s Noodle Boat partly because Noodle Boat workers make the pilgrimage to Thailand annually to research new dishes and to make chili paste to bring back in Seattle. Playfully named dishes like Queen of Banana, King of Garlic, Hot Meat, and “Whatever You Called?” can bring on serious heat by request. Recommended: BKK—Noodle Boat’s version of hor mok (curried fish custard), which is stir-fried rather than steamed.
7. Noodle Nation
Of all the Thai restaurants on The Ave, this one sticks out in the University District (and Seattle as a whole) for serving kuay teow rhua (boat noodle soup). While the soup is missing some desired elements (like liver, tripe, and cracklins), at least there’s pork blood in the broth. Also try the kuay jab, which features rolled up rice noodles that resemble carpet rolls.
8. Pestle Rock
This Ballard restaurant serves Isan-style food, from northeastern Thailand. The menu items are markedly different than what’s served in other Seattle-area Thai restaurants, featuring meats like boar collar, homemade Thai sausage, and frog legs. Quality preparations utilize quality ingredients, such as Carleton Farms pork marinated in Thai whisky.
9. Pop Pop Thai Street Food
Those on the north side of Seattle know that this not-visible-from-the-street restaurant is serving up some special Thai food. Recommended: the brilliantly pink noodle soup known as yen ta fo (here called Red Sea Noodle Soup) along with the signature braised pork leg with mustard greens. Also check for interesting specials, like fish curry served with twirls of rice vermicelli noodles.
10. Thai Curry Simple
Simple is the key word at this International District hole-in-the-wall that’s lunch only, weekday only, cash only, and almost curry only. Oh, there are noodles and a couple of other dishes, but take inspiration from the name of the restaurant and go with one of the curries on offer. The only choice you’ll then have to make is whether to add homemade hot sauce for more heat.
This unassuming and yet cozy restaurant in Mount Baker is a mainstay for low-priced (albeit cash-only) Thai food. The pad thai has dried shrimp (as it should) and the green papaya salad has real heat (as it should). That salad is a perfect accompaniment to BBQ chicken and a side of sticky rice that comes in a cute bamboo basket. Bonus: Lao dishes on the menu.
Originally published on Eater Seattle 1/30/15. Post includes photos from previously unvisited restaurants.