A Thai Airways employee opened Bai Tong near Sea-Tac in 1989, where she created a place for homesick expats with her authentic Siamese dishes—and hospitable servers in traditional silk garb—like fragrant meang kum lettuce wraps, stunning crispy garlic chicken, a comforting banana-coconut milk kluay buat chee dessert. Since then she’s moved to more destination-worthy digs near Southcenter, a favorite for homey Thai that now has a casual Pike/Pine sibling with its own street food menu, where seared pork belly options abound. There’s plenty besides belly, though, like tender gems of mussel shrouded in crunchy layers of fried egg. Add sweet chili sauce and be transported, ever so briefly, to a sidewalk stand in Bangkok.
Madison Valley’s new Thai restaurant is casual enough for takeout, but the street food–centered menu and windowed dining room are worthy of an actual night out: Round sausages burst with garlic, a larb (aka salad) of crispy mushrooms dusted in rice powder is so bright and savory it’s almost oysterlike, while a trio of chicken drumsticks (and a satisfyingly rich curry) ground the kao soi noodle dish. Familiars like pad thai receive equally careful treatment.
After Goldilocks moments in spaces too small (a sidewalk takeout window on Madison), then too big (a Pioneer Square basement), the beloved Little Uncle has found its just-right. Mind you, the packed, modern space has limited seating—hooray for a sidewalk patio—but wraparound windows help, as do aromas from the open kitchen, tended by owners Wiley Frank and Poncharee Kounpungchart—evoke its heady citizen-of-the-world status. A $13-ish menu of terrific noodle bowls, starring pad thai (add the side packets of chiles and nuts and sugar if you want intrigue) and exquisite khao soi gai (chicken curry over egg noodles) is served 11am to 9pm, with an added card of shareables after 5pm.
It’s the best-looking Thai restaurant in a town crawling with Thai joints. You know the place: that filigreed facade at 45th and Woodlawn in Wallingford. Inside, carved teak covers the walls, lilting Thai folk music lifts the mood, and heavy brass utensils adorn the table. But the real beauty begins when the pad thai lands. Those complex, sour-sweet-savory notes? How pad thai is meant to taste, which is to say, without a swim in that Western cure-all called ketchup. Instead, your waiter will tear in Chinese chives and banana blossom, then grind peanuts, sugar, and dried chilies to your taste. Curries at May are balanced and silken; seafood dishes—like the signature pad grapao samui with sauteed sea scallops, prawns, and calamari in a feisty, basil sauce—are brightly seasoned and packed with fish. As the hoppin’ downstairs bar attests—a destination unto itself—the place even offers cocktails.
In the finest Thai food, spices all play their positions, each identifiable, all working as a team. Curries and noodle dishes at the unassuming, color-splashed Noodle Boat are delicious, big league examples. Little touches, like lime leaves torn rather than cut for more flavor in soups and a pungent, hand-mixed chili paste, make Noodle Boat a standout. Mieng kum is essential, a thoroughly authentic roll-your-own appetizer: roasted coconut, crushed peanuts, lime wedges (leave the peel on), red onion, and Thai chilies are wrapped into emerald, nutty cha plu leaves hard to find outside Thailand. (Word has it the owners return there regularly to stock up on several ingredients.) It’s an explosion on your palate. Shrimp and chicken tumble with steamed banana blossoms, roasted coconut, lemongrass slivers, and cilantro in the Queen of Banana, a house specialty. Warning: They play serious with heat here. Venture beyond “medium” and you’re toying with fire.
It’s a restaurant sweet spot: lantern-lit and nice enough for casual Saturday nights, able to feed the family without incurring a punishing bill. Most importantly, this little dining room on Ballard’s main drag preaches the pungent, spicy gospel of Thailand’s Isan region, using high-quality proteins, like a nam tok meat salad made extra savory with boar collar, or deceptively fiery Thai sausages. Khao soi curry noodle soup: mandatory.
The space is unassuming, almost hidden in the corner of a vast parking lot on Aurora Avenue. But the food is some of the most credible Thai in town, made by two detail-oriented guys who adapted their moms’ recipes so we can all revel in papaya salad, pungent with salted crab, or khao mun gai—comforting chicken and rice—in the darkest, most savory of sauce. Exciting things always happen on the specials board.
Pestle Rock was the best Thai restaurant in Ballard. Until its owners opened a megacasual Southeast Asian noodle bar next door, where so much happens inside each fortifying bowl, like the guay tiow khaek, a seafood soup with fat, square noodles in a rich coconut curry broth that snaps with chili oil. If the build-your-own-adventure combinations seem daunting, head straight for the ba mee giow muu dang, a clear, porky broth full of leaner-than-usual barbecue pork atop egg noodles and a few of Sen’s excellent dumplings.
Thailand’s northeast region of Isan is a pungent, growing presence on America’s Thai food landscape, now part of our scene-iest dining scene on Capitol Hill, amidst 14-foot ceilings and custom rustic-industrial decor. Chef-owner Yuie Wiborg is particularly adept with the menu’s piquant grilled meats, like the sliced kor moo yang pork collar. Meals involve wielding hunks of sticky rice like a dipping utensil, and the jerky is funky in the best possible way.
Sheer curtains of mosquito netting demarcate a charming brick-walled room on the Columbia City strip. A vast menu includes Thai staples (great spicy shrimp tom yum goong soup) plus whole tilapia and elegant drunken noodles, all for shockingly reasonable prices. Even better, Spice Room has a firm grasp of what Seattle wants in a neighborly Thai restaurant—an option for brown rice, stiff cocktails, a few fusion dishes (great Thai steak), and well-informed servers you can trust.
The Thai couple who run this crammed lunch joint near the corner of Fifth and Jackson discovered the secret to success in their New York restaurants: Use curries made in Thailand, with native lemongrass and galangal, from Grandma’s own recipes. The distinction is evident, particularly in the green curry, which you can augment with crazy-fiery hot sauce (one is labeled “No Kidding”), only if you’re, well, not kidding. Frugal lunch-goers pack the joint, digging the $5 lunches and sweating out their eye sockets. For dessert try roti, the panfried flatbread of Thai street culture, drizzled with condensed milk and lavished with whatever sweet toppings are listed on the wall-size chalkboards.
At this nondescript Thai restaurant, turn to the menu’s back page for some of the best, boldest Lao food in town, including khao soi and the crispy rice salad known as khao nam tod—it’s texture and flavor for days.
A student-friendly shave ice spot from the owners of Thai Curry Simple. Bowls start with something sweet, usually some combination of jewel-like fruits and housemade herb jellies. Combo No. 3, the lord chong bai tauy, is made with bright green pandan noodles—mild in flavor and tender—a fat scoop of snowy ice, then a final drizzle of coconut milk and toasted palm sugar.