Thai food isn’t that container of peanut noodles you get from the refrigerated section of your local bodega at 4 am after a sloppy night out. If that’s Thai, we’re calling ourself French. Thank you for reading L’Infatuation.
Now, we aren’t going claim that every single one of these restaurants is “truly authentic” (though a handful definitely are) but we can promise they will make your mouth happy. Your mouth might burn afterwards and want to jump off a bridge into the ice-cold waters of the Hudson - but that’s just how it expresses its joy. Get to know your mouth. Take it on a play date with sticky rice and papaya salad at one of these Thai places. They’re the best in the city.
Lately, we’ve been telling a lot of people to get Uncle Boons in their rotation. It’s in a little space on Spring Street, and it’s the rare spot that exceeds the expectations of its trendy hype. Get the massaman curry with boneless beef ribs and the golden curry with a chicken leg. Also, try something from the charcoal grill (there’s a whole menu). The food packs serious depth and flavor, and it’s a guaranteed spot to impress out-of-town friends. And If you want to finish strong, don’t sleep on the coconut sundae.
Khao Kang is counter service and cash only - and they serve some of the city’s best Thai food. For less than nine dollars, you get a heap of rice and your choice of three entrees. None of the dishes are labeled, however, so don’t expect to know exactly what you’re getting. Just point at what looks like it should be in your mouth and a minimally cooperative staff member will scoop it onto your plate lunch-lady style. If something looks like pork or curry, get it. And fill a few cups at the water dispenser before you sit down. This is Elmhurst, and everything’s pre-made, and no one will ask you how spicy you want your food.
Just a few doors down from the super-popular SriPraPhai, Thailand’s Center Point is the insider alternative. If you want somewhere homier, go to TCP. The owner does the cooking and her daughters wait on tables. The food here is also a little more fun. Their papaya salad, for example, is deep fried and piled high with green beans and shrimp. Also, the tamarind fried rice comes unmixed to the table, leaving it up to the diner to get the right proportions of sweet tamarind and super salty “salt egg” with each bite. It’s hard, but worth it.
If you’re only familiar with pad Thai and massaman curry, great. Ayada does excellent versions of both (and you should try them with duck). Ayada is a reliable, straightforward option if you want Elmhurst-quality Thai, and, if you want something more adventurous, you can get that here too. Try some raw shrimp or a papaya salad with pieces of raw crab. The crab comes in-shell, and its texture is best described as “gooey.” Prices here are extremely fair and service is friendly, so, if you have few hours and a craving for fresh, perfectly cooked Thai, strongly consider Ayada.
If you’re passing through Midtown and you’re craving some larb, swerve to the east fifties and every other storefront will be a Thai restaurant. It can get a little overwhelming, but Wondee Siam is always a good choice. It’s nothing fancy, but if you want good penang curry or some pineapple fried rice that you’ll want to mash up and make a night retainer out of, hit up Wondee. The whole fried snapper should be ordered as well (because it’s $22 and it’ll get you through the winter).
The inside of Pure Thai Cookhouse looks like a cross between a country Thai kitchen and a preschool classroom. (That’s a good thing.) The menu here focuses around noodles and stir fries. They’re all great, and the dry noodles with pork and lump crab are an excellent bet. Considering it gets crowded in this very small space, consider flying solo and grabbing one of the stools along the wall.
Don’t be afraid to eat sticky rice with your hands. Grab handful and mop up some sauce with it. Somtum Der is a northern-Thai restaurant that leans toward authenticity, so you might as well. And don’t hesitate to get the fried chicken. (It’s Thai, and it’s good.) Papaya salad is another no-brainer at this East Village stand-by, and there are eight different ones to choose from. If you want to impress your date, get the one with fermented fish sauce. If your date doesn’t like it, well, don’t make snap judgments. Just order them a different one and eat the pungent fish sauce yourself.
Lan Larb is a no frills Thai spot on a random no-man’s-land block below Nolita that stands out because it’s so normal. Every other restaurant in the area spent half their original budget on custom matchbooks and artisanal neon signs, but Lan Larb is fine doing its own thing. If you’re looking for delivery, they’ll bring some very good curry or noodles to your office or home. The restaurant isn’t good for any kind of occasion that calls for ambiance, but, if you just need good food, stop in and try some of their Isan regional specialties, like larb (ground meat salad) or Thai sausage.
Lovely Day isn’t the most authentic Thai, but at least they aren’t pretending to be. Sure, there’s a seared tuna sushi roll on the menu, but this is always a charming spot for a casual meal with friends. Also, the vibes are good, and it’s probably the cheapest dinner you can have in the Nolita area that still feels like a “fun night out.” Get the green curry, the hobo noodles, and the ginger fried chicken. If you want something more intimate, there’s also a bar downstairs that serves the food. The host probably won’t tell you about it when you ask for a table, but now you’re in the know.
The food at Up Thai isn’t the on the level of the stuff you want to travel for, but on the Upper East Side, it gets no better. Delivery is tempting, but many of the best things won’t travel well (and the dining room isn’t a bad place to spend some time). So DVR that episode of The Bachelorette and get yourself a table. Order the chicken larb, the whole red snapper, and the crispy duck with tamarind sauce. If you’re really into seafood, get a Thai bouillabaisse, which is a thing here.
If your idea of comfort food is stir-fried pork with eggplant, shrimp, chili, and more pork, then, yes - Senn Thai is comfort food. Stop here if you want surprisingly adventurous Thai on the Upper West Side. We wouldn’t say it’s comparable to the stuff you find in Queens, but we’ve been over this: you’re in Manhattan, make lemonade. Follow our advice, and you’ll find it’s some it’s some pretty good lemonade. Have a papaya salad, get the chicken wings with the spicy chili/lime sauce, and go for a curry (the green version does the trick).
If you’re looking for fully authentic Thai on the Upper West Side, we need to have a talk about your expectations. The Upper West Side is where you take your niece to the planetarium or where you go to a Purim party dressed as John McEnroe. Now that we’ve cleared that up, feel free to enjoy something from the wok at Land Thai. This isn’t in-your-face Woodside food, but they do have sticky rice, and the curries are excellent. The same owners run Pure Thai Cookhouse, but the seating at Land Thai is more comfortable. Also, they do a two-course lunch for nine dollars.