Best Thai Restaurants in the U.S.
If you’ve eaten at a neighborhood Thai restaurant, you’re likely familiar with pick-your-protein Technicolor curries. Odds are you’ve tried papaya salad, spring rolls, and pad thai improbably made with ketchup and maybe even peanut butter.
While many ethnic cuisines are domesticated to Western palates, Thai food may be the most bastardized in America. “We have the same basic Thai dishes over and over again, many of which have nothing to do with Thailand,” says Andy Ricker, the James Beard Award–winning chef behind the bicoastal restaurant empire Pok Pok, known for authentic dishes like charcoal-roasted hen with lemongrass and tamarind.
But for as many sugarcoated Thai restaurants operating in the U.S., there’s an appreciable number of spots doing it right—especially in immigrant-heavy cities like Houston, where Asia Market encourages diners to personally adjust their dishes with condiments like pickled peppers, fish sauce, and chili sauce (nam prik). L.A., meanwhile, supports both NIGHT + MARKET, which puts a hipster spin on Thai street food, and Thai Town’s Jitlada, where chef Tui Sungkamee makes traditional fiery southern dishes.
“Thai is not a monolithic culture and, as such, not a monolithic cuisine,” explains Ricker. “It varies vastly from region to region and even from house to house.”
If a restaurant’s focus is northern, expect vegetables, bitterness, and earthy, oily flavors like coconut curry (khao soi), along with heaps of sticky rice. Northeastern (or Isan) tends to be tarter and spicier; order the larb (a spicy minced meat salad) and fermented sausages. Southern Thai is all about pungent, bold curries spiked with turmeric, while central prioritizes balance, best exemplified by traditional pad thai, made with tamarind, lime juice, dried shrimp, and salted turnip or radish—never ketchup or peanut butter, swaps made to satisfy America’s penchant for sugar.
“Thai food is one of the most balanced cuisines,” adds chef Haidar Karoum, who spends hours making curry paste from scratch at Doi Moi in Washington, D.C. “It’s never just sweet or just spicy, rather a balance of acidity, sweetness, aromatics, and heat.”
Read on for more restaurants striking that perfect Thai balance.
Lers Ros, San Francisco
Thai-born chef-owner Tom Silargorn is taking over San Francisco one neighborhood at a time. His encyclopedic menu—featuring more than 120 dishes, nearly all under $10—has three homes throughout the city, in the Tenderloin, Hayes Valley, and the Mission, all of which offer diners a taste of Thailand that’s normally camouflaged from greenhorns in Thai-only menus. Expect modern, contemporary interiors and rambunctious diners whose chatter is nearly as loud as the flavors in duck larb, whole crispy whitefish with blazing chiles, and pad kra prow moo krob (stir-fried pork belly with potent basil and sweet pepper). We’re jealous that locals can get Silargorn’s authentic, ketchup-free pad thai for delivery too.
Khong River House, Miami
Named for the culturally binding Mekong River, James Beard Foundation semifinalist Khong River House pays homage to several Southeast Asian countries. But we’re partial to its northern Thai plates like peppery green papaya salad and crispy duck with green peppercorn and jalapeño garlic chives—served, naturally, with sticky rice. Credit goes to chef Clayton Miller. Meals unfold in an inspired setting of reclaimed wood, Thai motorcycle license plates, birdcages, fish traps, and chairs made from fishing boats. Even the bar, which stocks 70 varieties of gin, embraces fiery chiles, steeping them in cocktails.
Phat Thai, Carbondale, CO
Having never cooked Thai food or visited Thailand, chef Mark Fischer found himself in a bit of an ah-jaht (Thai pickle) when he decided to open a Thai joint. But after staging at Michelin-starred chef David Thompson’s Sailors Thai in Sydney and multiple research trips to Thailand, Fischer was able to create an experience that is neither authentic nor fusion nor copycat. Rather, Phat Thai is a shameless love letter to Thai cuisine. The green curry with chicken and the pad thai (also called phat thai, hence the name) are each a triumph of flavor. Phat Thai makes its curry pastes in-house—a feat requiring 20 pounds of Thai chiles each week. Wash it all down with chilled Singha; the restaurant buys more than anyone else in the state.
Ayada, Queens, NY
Considering Ayada’s location in the heart of the Queens Thai community, near a Thai Buddhist temple, it’s not surprising the restaurant is known for its take-no-prisoners spice level. Phichit-born chef-owner Duangjai Thammasat (nicknamed Kitty) never sugarcoats her food; rather, her menu showcases Thailand in all its sinus-clearing glory, with an emphasis on southern curries spiked with sour tamarind and hot chiles. Don’t leave without trying the soupy kaeng som curry soured with tamarind paste or the beef tendon soup—you’ll want to order it dark, meaning laced with pig’s blood, a prized ingredient in southern Thailand. Temper the heat with cooling young-coconut water and ice cream infused with iced tea syrup. 77-08 Woodside Ave.
Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas
The late culinary bible Gourmet magazine put this off-strip treasure on the map more than a decade ago when it named Lotus of Siam the best Thai restaurant in America. Since then, chef-owner Saipin Chutima, who runs the restaurant with her husband and daughters, became the first Asian-born chef to win a James Beard Award for cooking the cuisine from her roots: Chiang Mai–style family recipes passed down from multiple generations. Diners wait hours for a table, vying for a taste of Chutima’s nam kao tod (a salad of crispy rice, fried peanuts, and sour sausage), nam prik nuhm (roasted green-chile dip), and catfish larb. Riesling pairs brilliantly with spicy food, which here is rated by degrees of hotness, and there’s an extensive list of German white wines to complement the 150-plus dishes—not to mention the steal-of-the-century $9.99 buffet lunch.
Doi Moi, Washington, D.C.
Chef Haidar Karoum and restaurateur Mark Kuller (the duo behind Proof and Estadio) always planned to open an Asian restaurant together. After heading east to eat their way through Bangkok and Chiang Mai in 2012, they returned to D.C., where Doi Moi (meaning “new change”) was born. The 5,000-square-foot restaurant overlooks bustling 14th Street and features a large open kitchen paying tribute to the culinary traditions found throughout Southeast Asia—and its Thai dishes are among D.C.’s finest. You’ll agree if you order the khao soi gai, a spicy chicken and crispy noodle coconut curry with pickled mustard greens that takes three hours to make.
Asia Market, Houston
This ethnic grocery’s teeny kitchen specializes in palate-awakening heat. Choose among five spice levels (from “mild” to “1,000 peppers”), and make any necessary adjustments at the table stocked with fiery condiments. The choices here include bowls of kee mao (rice noodles spiked with basil, cherry tomatoes, and chili sauce); preserved duck egg curry; and shredded papaya salad with crab, made Thai style (sweet and sour with peanuts, dried shrimp, and cherry tomatoes) or Laos style (meaning with galvanic bursts of southern Thai fish sauce). Most dishes ring in under $8, making Asia Market’s homespun setting all the more satisfying.
Ruan Thai, Wheaton, MD
Family-owned Ruan Thai has been a local favorite since 1998, and for good reason: its intricate symphonies of sweet, sour, salt, and scorch are unparalleled in Maryland. Chef Krisana Suchotinunt’s yum watercress salad is the talk of the town—deep-fried greens comingle with shrimp, squid, onions, and cashews—though a curry of catfish, green beans, and cauliflower is equally intriguing. With only 12 tables and a purported parking issue, Ruan Thai is not easy to get to. But if you do, be sure to order the deep-fried whole flounder with hot chile garlic sauce.
May Kitchen + Bar, Vashon, WA
When May Chaleoy came to America in 1997, she planned to learn English and then return to her native Bangkok. Instead, she opened Washington’s best Thai restaurant, a tamarind-scented oasis on Vashon Island (a 15-minute ferry ride from Seattle, where her former eponymous restaurant was located). Inside you’ll find 60 seats surrounded by carved teak and mahogany panels and lotus-petal light fixtures imported from Thailand. Still, it’s the food that commands your attention: central Thai classics like green curry (made from scratch with green chiles, Thai eggplant, coconut cream, and shipped-from-the-motherland Kaffir lime skin) and moo satay (yellow curry grilled pork skewers). But the pad thai is perhaps most memorable (and certainly most authentic): servers deliver banana leaf–wrapped parcels of noodles bathed in house-made tamarind sauce, mixed tableside with chiles, Chinese chives, bean sprouts, and bitter banana flowers.
Pok Pok, Portland, OR
People flock to Pok Pok for the legendary chicken wings: they’re deep fried, smothered in sticky fish sauce, and make up more than 30 percent of the restaurant’s sales. But they stay for the coriander-rubbed grilled boar collar—and the whiskey. James Beard Award–winning chef Andy Ricker may be a 6-foot-2 white dude from Oregon, but his ever-expanding empire (seven restaurants in Portland and New York at last count) and fluency in Thai suggest his food holds its own with the Siamese. The original Pok Pok started as a bare-bones shack with a single-digit menu. Today, the expanded restaurant emphasizes northern and northeastern Thai street food, complete with an arsenal of Chiang Mai sausage, fiery buffalo larb, spicy green papaya salad, and coconut curry grilled corn.
Jitlada, Los Angeles
Follow Ryan Gosling’s footsteps to Jitlada, where the actor is a regular. Indeed, this family-run southern Thai temple has won over much of L.A., luring diners to a mini-mall in the Thai Town neighborhood, an unassuming location offset by the nuclear dishes you’d be hard-pressed to find outside Hat Yai. Expect a wait—with only three stoves and 50 seats, there’s almost always a line, though that doesn’t stop chef Tui Sungkamee’s menu from spanning some 300 dishes, including coconut mango salad, a curative tom yum soup (a lemongrass-laced broth with chiles and Kaffir lime), fiery Phangga jungle curry, and eel with stinky beans. He spends hours at local farmers’ markets personally selecting the night’s ingredients, while his sister Jazz—Jitlada’s infectious co-owner and host—grows herbs like galangal and turmeric in her home garden. If you’re lucky, Jazz will be persuaded to make her off-menu Thai burger.
Uncle Boons, New York City
Even papaya salad gets the fine-dining treatment at Uncle Boons, no surprise when you consider the restaurant’s husband-and-wife team (Matt Danzer and Ubon-born Ann Redding) hail from Per Se. Armed with a charcoal grill and rotisserie (no small feat in Manhattan), Danzer and Redding turn out smoky seafood plates with nam prik (Thai chile sauce). The crowd at this art-cluttered tavern is as varied as the menu, which is admittedly regionally unfocused, though it consists mostly of Redding’s family recipes. So it’s not uncommon for traditional massaman curry punctuated with green peppercorns (a drier version than you’re likely used to) and titillating lamb larb to simultaneously hit the table with unconventional mee krob with fried sweetbreads. Don’t leave without knocking back a Singha slushy—they sell 600 a week.
Titaya’s Thai Cuisine, Austin, TX
Opened in 2006, this family-owned North Loop restaurant revered for its pad kee mao (stir-fried rice noodles with basil, mushrooms, and Thai chile) recently reopened after an 11-month hiatus and renovation, and it’s better than ever. Chef Ek Timrerk’s presentation of Thai’s four regional cuisines (from northern jungle curry to central massaman curry) alongside fusion dishes, like fried lemongrass chicken wings, debunks the myth that Thai food needs to be spicy. But all dishes are still bursting with flavor, which explains the inevitable line wrapping around the no-reservations restaurant. The perfect finish: mango sticky rice.
Little Serow, Washington, D.C.
There are a lot of rules at this Dupont Circle hot spot: no reservations (first-come, first-served); no groups larger than four (there are only 28 seats in the whole joint); no photos; and no substitutions allowed. But if you’re willing to queue up—lines form as early as 4 p.m.—and play along, you’ll be privy to a special family-style dinner ($45 per person) of northern and northeastern Thai dishes. Menus change weekly, but you can count on tangy regional specialties served alongside handwoven baskets bursting with sticky rice, fresh herbs, and veggies. Chef-owner Johnny Monis sources holy basil, pea eggplants, and khi nu chiles from local farmers and makes bla ra (a distinctly dank unfiltered fish sauce) from scratch using local snakehead from the neighboring Potomac River watershed. For the shortest wait, show up at 9 p.m. on a weekday.
NIGHT + MARKET, Los Angeles
Don’t be thrown off by the psychedelic setting or the Cindy Crawford poster, which is reminiscent of roadside shacks in the Thai countryside. The indigenous Thai street food Kris Yenbamroong is cooking up at both the new Silver Lake outpost and the original West Hollywood NIGHT + MARKET is everything we’ve come to love about north and northeastern Thai food—pungent, bold flavors and gobs of heat smacking you in the face. The best approach: bring friends and share lots of small plates. Start with luu suk, a “dipping soup” of pork blood and MSG topped with fresh herbs and pork cracklings, and spicy catfish larb before digging into the pork toro (75 percent of which is fat) and curries, alongside generous helpings of sticky rice. To tame the fire, order a bottle of pét-nat, a natural sparkling wine. Close your eyes and taste—you could easily be in Chiang Rai.
Royal Thai, Dallas
Since 1992, Gene and Jay Potchana have been satisfying Dallas residents with bright Thai cuisine inspired by Jay’s mother, a cook just outside of Bangkok. Though the husband and wife have reconciled their dishes to tamer Texas tastes, the food is undeniably soothing—as is the restaurant interior, with its soft lighting, Thai art, and wooden screens. Try the tender tulip dumplings stuffed with pork and shrimp and Chiang Mai–style sausages perfumed with basil and lemongrass for proof. Don’t leave without sampling the fried-to-flaky-perfection whole red snapper topped with sauce that’s equal parts sweet and burn.
Amarin Thai, San Diego
Since 1993, chef-owner Nok Suree Suksudecha has been serving San Diegans authentic curries at Amarin Thai, which was awarded best in the city by San Diego Magazine’s readers and critics alike. Chef Suree specializes in vegetarian dishes like tofu tod (crispy fried tofu served with Thai sweet chili sauce and crushed peanuts) and classic hot and sour tom yum soup. But her Mambo Mambo chicken (a hot pot of stewed chicken and ripe mango in red curry sauce) is equally mouthwatering. Unlike at many American Thai spots, the wine list here rivals the food menu—and has garnered awards from Wine Spectator five years running. For a sweet finish, try the coconut ice cream.
Sticky Rice, Chicago
Named for the northern Thai staple of every meal, Sticky Rice makes few concessions to Western palates—traditional tamarind-laden stewed pork curry is a standout, while herbaceous house-made sausages, banana blossom salad, and larb made authentically with ground pork and intestine anchor the huge menu. Adventurous diners seeking a true taste of Thai street food will appreciate the insect dishes, from fried worms to ant omelettes, though tamer items like coconut curry khao soi will satisfy the bug-averse. Don’t forget to BYOB.
Teton Thai, Jackson, WY
When you tire of buffalo and trout, head to Teton Thai, one of Wyoming’s few Thai restaurants—and a hidden gem if ever there was one. The family-run restaurant secluded at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has been toned down for the American palate (more so than at most of our restaurant picks). Yet many dishes still pop and ping with the best of them, notably, the pad gar pow with crisp-skinned duck breast and the pucker-inducing chicken larb. When the weather cooperates, the patio makes a pretty perfect spot for slurping lemongrass-laced tom yum soup.
Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft, Atlanta
The South isn’t exactly known for its Thai food, but one Atlanta family is developing an outsize reputation. Charlie and Nan Niyomkul helm Nan Thai Fine Dining and its sibling, Tamarind Seed Bistro, and in 2010 their daughter Dee Dee and her husband opened Tuk Tuk, which focuses on Bangkok street food, a tribute to her street-vending grandmother. Build your meal out of small plates, starting with mieng kum, a pillow of spinach leaves revealing lime-laden roasted peanuts, coconut, and onion bathed in caramelized palm sugar. Neau sewan, northeastern chewy sirloin with mounds of sticky rice, and tangy chicken larb make an especially great meal, best finished with a Thai snow cone (shaved ice sweetened with condensed milk, rose syrup, lotus and palm seeds, taro, and red beans).