Sydney’s Southeast Asian population has brought with it a boom in authentic—and seriously spicy—cooking.
Thai restaurants have been a part of Sydney’s culinary landscape for decades, most of them serving the same standard-issue curries and overly sweetened pad thai. But in the past 15 years, an upswing in immigration has swelled the city’s Thai-born population, which is now the second-largest outside Thailand (L.A. ranks first). A cluster of groceries and restaurants on Campbell and Pitt Streets, near Central Station, is even referred to as Thai Town. As a result, there’s been a surge in exciting Thai cooking, with a spectrum of regional flavors and styles of service represented—from no-frills canteens to elegant, high-end dining rooms.
The chefs at this modest kitchen have stripped away the tamer refinements of modern Thai, focusing on bold dishes like ka nom jeen nam ya (fermented rice noodles in fish curry). Entrées $9–$20.
Among the newest additions to Thai Town, Boon combines a coffee-shop aesthetic with Thai-fusion sandwiches at lunch and a dinner menu of Isaan delicacies including noodles studded with daring ingredients like chicken feet and fermented pork. Entrées $9–$15.
Run by the owners of Spice I Am, House specializes in the robust palette of northeast Thailand’s Isaan region. Try the nua daed deaw, crispy sun-dried beef strips, and the som tum lao, a deliciously pungent papaya salad with fish sauce and shrimp paste. Entrées $9–$14.
This upscale spot has been a Sydney institution since opening 16 years ago, when it introduced the city to modern Thai cooking. In specialties like the tapioca-crusted whole fish and caramelized pork hock, the big flavors of home-style Thai cooking are refined by sophisticated culinary techniques. Entrées $11–$26.
On the southern edge of Chinatown, this tom yum shop is a hot destination in every sense of the word. Big bowls of soup, dense with satisfyingly chewy rice noodles, are rated on a spice scale of 1 to 7 (don’t overestimate yourself: anything above 3 may render your taste buds useless for days). Entrées $4–$12.