A Thai Airways employee opened Bai Tong near Sea-Tac in 1989 and created a place for homesick expats with hospitable servers in traditional silk garb and vivid dishes like fragrant meang kum lettuce wraps, stunning crispy garlic chicken, and a comforting banana-coconut milk kluay buat chee dessert. Since then, Bai Tong has moved to more destinationworthy digs near Southcenter (plus Redmond and Issaquah). In 2017 the restaurants added a casual Pike/Pine sibling with its own street food menu, serving tender gems of mussel shrouded in crunchy layers of fried egg, plus a ton of standout pork belly.
A rainbow of beams arch over the bar, plastic baskets in every color fashioned into chandeliers hang from the lofty ceiling, and then, at the entrance of this shotgun-shaped Belltown restaurant, a faux market stall serves as the host stand. The message: Get ready for bright, comforting street food favorites from Thailand. The vast menu takes cues from the popular Bangkok market for which it’s named—perfect roasted pork belly, sausages with serious spicy kick, deep-fried crab cakes, and a carousel of housemade hot sauces to crank up the heat. If the sheer number of dishes overwhelms (there are, delightfully, six papaya salad options alone), servers can steer you in the right, chile-spiked direction.
Low light, vermilion walls, and wood filigrees that delicately evoke ancient Siam make this enduring West Seattle favorite one of the loveliest Thai restaurants around. But the crispy garlic chicken devotees—you know, the ones who order it for takeout three times a week—don’t need the place to be beautiful. They just need their fix: tender morsels of fried chicken, sauteed in garlic, fired with chiles, and served over crisped basil alongside jasmine rice.
Really it’s just your typical Pike/Pine coffee shop turned bar that specializes in hip-hop and khao mun gai. Inside the nightspot known as Sugar Hill, Guitar Srisuthiamorn does an exemplary version of Thailand’s signature chicken-and-rice street food dish. One that packs real flavor—even before you add the sauce’s zing. The vinyl collection lining the walls inspires the soundtrack; petite platters of fried chicken skin fuel a night of Hill carousing.
At the entrance to Madison Valley stands a restaurant 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 khao soi noodle dish. Familiars like pad thai receive equally careful treatment.
At this Wallingford staple, many merely pop in for takeout, and that’s a shame, since its building is integral to its charm. The two-story peaked facade, adorned with swirling metals and neon, gives way to a warm, transportive interior: teak panels, gold petals blooming from pillars. On the menu, stick to the mains (apps mostly undergo a deep fryer’s averaging), where you’ll find dishes typical of U.S. Thai, with the care nudged up. Pad thai, a standout here, even gets a tableside assembly.
There are hot pot restaurants outfitted with huge tables where you bring the whole crew. Then there are the hot pot places better suited for a smaller group or a duo, where the happy hour is solid and the menu pleasantly varied. Morfire is the latter. The concrete-neutral room on 12th Avenue serves the boiling hot soup dish Thai style: Tom kha coconut milk or tangy tamarind soup broths act as the bubbling base for Pacific Northwest–procured ingredients, from thin slices of pork to leafy, fresh bok choy. It’s a subtler cousin to fiery-spiced Taiwanese hot pots, but no less satisfying. The dishes that perhaps deliver bolder flavors are stir-fried, like a big nest of glass noodles cooked in a searing cast iron pan with cabbage, beef, and chile-lime sauce.
A long, layered room at the end of a resolutely beige Issaquah strip mall remains one of the region’s Thai benchmarks. Dishes burst with lime leaves, chiles, and the creative fruits of the cooks’ regular research trips back to Thailand. Go-tos like pad thai, tom yum, and khao soi are the best, most vibrant versions of themselves, but deeper dives into the menu yield boat-shaped dishes of rice noodles in memorable curries, or the Queen of Banana—steamed banana blossoms with chicken, prawns, and a riot of herbs.
It’s a restaurant sweet spot—lantern-lit and nice enough for casual Saturday nights, reasonable enough 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 northeast 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, sharp 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 chile 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.
A gleaming Capitol Hill dining room with 14-foot ceilings and custom rustic-industrial decor proclaims Isan’s pungent, growing presence on Seattle’s food landscape. Chef-owner Yuie Wiborg is particularly adept with the menu’s piquant grilled meats, like the sliced kor moo yang pork collar. Even neophytes quickly learn to wield hunks of sticky rice like a dipping utensil, and the jerky is funky in the best possible way.
Homey Lao dishes built this vestibule-size restaurant in Chinatown–International District a following, but now the sign out front proclaims it a “Thai kitchen.” Under subsequent family owners, the menu shifted toward more prevalent curries, salads, and noodle dishes, balanced with vivid exceptions like sai oua sausage. But back in her tiny kitchen, chef Thanaporn Luijan takes such care with the details, you’ll see each fragrant plate of pad kee mao and egg-topped basil stir fry with new eyes. Song Phang Kong’s following, rightly, lives on.
After a decade in Old Ballard, one of the city’s most distinctive Thai restaurants settled into a more mellow existence in a converted Craftsman on Phinney Ridge. “Sweet’s not really what we do here,” says a server, before handing over a menu with entire sections dedicated to both grilled skewers and green papaya salad. Farther down the roster, hunks of pork belly fall apart in a restrained coating of five-spice curry, while tender cod and rice noodles arrive ready to wrap in lettuce leaves. Fu Kun Wu, the adjacent apothecary-styled cocktail bar from the Ballard days, now occupies a little chamber by the entrance, and a patio shaded with Singha umbrellas and copious bamboo delivers a surprisingly sultry vibe on a busy stretch of Greenwood Ave.
Mark and Picha Pinkaow have run this crammed spot near Fifth and Jackson for more than a decade. The secret to success is the same as it was back in their New York restaurants: curries sent from Thailand and made with native lemongrass and galangal, from Grandma’s own recipes. The distinction is evident, particularly in the green curry, though fans know you don’t overlook the noodle dishes. Same goes for the roti, drizzled with condensed milk.
Among the strip malls of MLK Way, a small Asian grocery store takes its name from the capital of Laos and serves dishes from the small nation whose flavors traverse its border with northeastern Thailand. Customers survey pictures of papaya salad and noodle soup that line the front window before ordering at the counter; most bypass the handful of tables and peruse the few aisles of sundries while waiting on takeout. More often than not, that includes nam khao, the crispy rice salad made with spicy sausage. Order extra sausage on the side for the full effect—on second thought, grab a few bags to go.
A student-friendly shaved 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.