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I'm Really Getting Bored With Thai Restaurants

I got takeout from a local Thai restaurant last week, and as I was perusing the menu it struck me that it looked almost exactly like the menus at ten other local Thai restaurants. Bo-ring! But surely each place has some hidden gems, right?

So, what are some interesting dishes I should look for on Thai menus as an alternative to the old standbys?

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    1. I know exactly what you are talking about. I tend not to go to Thai all that often because of it.

      Instead, what I do is look for key markers, as with Chinese places, sometimes a dish can be named the same at at both restaurants but one restaurants take more 'care' in it. So I ask about Thai Egg Plant, Chinese Brocolli and Morning Glory. I also ask the hostess what is the restaurant's 'specialty'.

      --Dommy!

      1. I assume you mean things like red, green and yellow curry? I happend to like those though, and creating different sauce/ meat / veg combos guarantees hours of fun!

        TT

        1. Ok, I'm no fan of Thai food either, BUT ... read the menu like a love letter ... scrutinize it ... read it again ... what haven't you seen before elsewhere?

          Collect take-out menus and then compare them. What is different?

          Then step out of your comfort zone and order that.

          What gets me insane is that people order the same dishes over and over ... the stop light curries ... red, yellow and green.

          What is SO totally annoying is that even with restaurants that have something interesting and different ... restaurant reviewers tend to glom on the familiar and not mention or try to educatate their readers on the unusual.

          Have you noticed Issan dishes on the menus of the Thai restaurants near you?

          1. When I need a break from duck curry or pad king, I go for the green papaya salad. Absolutely NOTHING like red/yellow/green curry. A local Thai chain here has "angry catfish" on their menu - very spicy and flavorful.

            An extreme option would be to take a week or so and go to Thailand.

            1. Or buy "Hot Sour Salty Sweet". An execellent SE Asian cookbook and try making some good stuff yourself. The book has some lovely recipes for some truly different stuff.

              1. Also, most Thai restaurants (at least in larger metro areas) have authentic "Thai Menus" that you have to ask for. These menus have the real deal cuisine the Thai folks don't think we Americans will like.

                1. I'm not sure what you're ordering at the Thai restaurants you're going to, but if you live in a large metro area, there's bound to be some authentic Thai food to be found. Check out this link (and the link in the opening post), and see if your places have menu items similar to the ones linked therein. You probably won't be so bored.

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                  1. Try a fish cooked in ginger if that's on the menu - had some recently that was very nice and different (to me) at a basic Thai place.

                    1. If you're bored with Thai food, my guess is that you aren't eating in good restaurants. I'd explore the soups and salads first, and assuming you have the tolerance for it, order the spicy ones (with soup, try with and without coconut milk). If you don't like them, Thai food might not be for you.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Dave Feldman

                        That's quite true. The first time I had Thai food, I wasn't that impressed. But now 20 years later, I love it. Maybe you've eaten through everything?

                        TT

                        1. re: Dave Feldman

                          wow -- i've probably eaten in 15-20 Thai restaurants here in the DC area alone. Guess they all suck!

                          1. re: Bob W

                            There's so much variety in Thai food, I think you'll come around. You don't really describe what the "standbys" are that you usually try.

                            1. re: Dave Feldman

                              Oh, I'm sure it's just a phase. My standbys are things like tom kha gai, green papaya salad, larb, chicken in red curry, drunken noodles, fried softshell crabs in season. Definitely looking more towards the spicy end of the spectrum and away from the sweet -- that's what Thai iced tea is for!.

                              1. re: Bob W

                                roast duck pet pet, miang kum, ma pa lo, pad neung ma lo, pad kee maw with octopus, pla rad prik. Start asking for things pet pet or pet ma as stated below. That should get things fired up.

                        2. One of my favorite dishes is prikh-king curry, a red curry with a lot of shrimp paste and no coconut milk, almost always made with green beans a protein. It's somewhat sweet -- that varies a lot from place to place -- and can be made as hot as you like, but usually is gentler than a green curry.

                          Less common dishes I've seen on U.S. Thai menus that could be worth a try include:

                          Crispy Catfish Salad: catfish is cooked then shredded into fibers, and then the fish fibers are deep fried, either in a kind of flat "raft" or in fluffy pieces. These are served with a spicy green mango (or green apple, if green mango is unavailable) salad. The salad is dynamite, but the overall experience requires that the catfish be very fresh and greaseless.

                          Miang Plah: this Isaan/Laotian dish involves chunks of fried fish and a selection of "add-ins" -- such as ginger chunks, chunks of lime, lemongrass pieces, and toasted peanuts -- that you combine in a leaf (the leaf depends on the restaurant) and eat out of hand a bit like a taco or a lettuce wrap. The fact that the flavor evolves as you chew makes it very interesting.

                          If you do pick up the cookbook mentioned above, you might point out what sounds interesting to the staff and see whether they're willing to make it for you.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Jefferson

                            I'm a big prikh-king fan too. I usually don't order the red, green, or yellow curries out because they're so easy to make at home with the store-bought pastes and coconut milk. Definitely go for the salads and soups for more variety.

                          2. Thanks to Erik M and his postings on Chowhound's Chicago Area board, lthforum.com and his own Web site http://www.silapaahaan.com/index.html the Thai-language menus have become quite available and several of the better Thai restaurants are now quite open about offering the good stuff to non-Thais.

                            Takeout and delivery menus may offer only a tiny sampling of a restaurant's range, however. Spoon Thai's carryout menu looks pretty run of the mill. In the restaurant, however, diners are routinely offered three menus from the basic to two more specialized menus. They also have a Thai-language menu with even more options. You can see some of the range of what they offer at http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?....

                            1. A great green curry can be very refined and complex. My go to place is Sabai in at the Takashimaya shopping centre in Singapore.

                              1. Thai food is so exciting and varied...so many different options. i HATE those options where you choose the meat and they cook them with different veggies.....so lame......

                                1. I am Thai and for those of you who note that you have not had good Thai food or do not like Thai food - my guess is that you are not eating at the right restaurants. Try to go where the Thais go...in L.A. it's Sanamluang Cafe in Hollywood, North Hollywood in Claremont; in SF area, it's Khan Toke; Berkeley - it's My Place. Once you've tasted authentic Thai food, there is no chance you won't like it. Bon Appetite!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: LCM

                                    I think it's important to have good Thai food the first time. I remember the dish that sold me: yum pla muk (squid salad). Tender squid still warm from cooking, and the magical balance of fish sauce, lime, garlic and chillies balanced by sugar... so unexpected and magical. To be honest, it probably wasn't authentic by Bangkok standards, but it captured the essence of what Thai cooking is about, and perhaps that's all you can expect on this side of the ocean.

                                  2. Maybe somebody can help identify this CH's curry?

                                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                    TT