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Help with real Thai in Seattle

Bear with me. It's been years since I've been in a Thai restaurant in Seattle-- got tired of how inauthentic the food was. (I've had much better luck with Vietnamese.) But today I found myself at lunch time in Madison Park, so I went into Thai Ginger. Ordered the basic noodle soup; was asked how hot I wanted it. Said the very hottest. Waitress said: "Four"? I replied: the hottest. She giggled.

When it came, true to form, it had no heat in it whatsoever. Zero. Zip. When I paid the bill, I remarked upon this. All I got was that typical Asian giggle again.

Is there ANY Thai restaurant in Seattle that serves food the way customers request it? And yes, I've been to Thailand many times, I know what it's supposed to taste like . . .

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  1. Thai Kitchen (top of Queen Anne), a reliable delivery stand-by for me, brings the heat. Usually order a 2-star and it's HOT. If you go with a 4-star you should be quite pleased, as tears of joy & pain roll down your face!

    1 Reply
    1. re: fooddawg

      Thaiku is pretty good about spice and authenticity. I've had wonderfully, painfully spicy som tam there.

    2. I really like Kwanjai Thai in Fremont. I have never asked for the 4 star though, so I'm not sure how seriously they will take you. I get medium hot and it usually comes with a good amount of heat.

      2 Replies
      1. re: karen2006

        Kwanji is good because if you ask they will bring the little tray of condiments with sambal, thai chiles in fish sauce and chile flakes if you need to trun the heat up. Thaiku in Ballard has a similar condiment tray.

        1. This is a timely post because I just ordered Thai food this weekend from Phad Thai at 8530 Greenwood Ave. N. I ordered Tom Yum soup - 3 stars. It was so spicy that I really couldn't finish it. I think I'll opt for 2 stars next time but 3 or 4 at this place might be what you are looking for.

          1 Reply
          1. re: savorlicious

            yeah i've had phad thai kick my butt when i've requested 2 stars, particularly on the very delicious steak salad. i don't know what your tolerance is but i would give it a shot. cause the flavor is good too, not simply spicy. they also deliver within the area. (greenwood, phinney ridge, crown hill, etc.)

          2. Two words: Thai Tom. It's far and away the best Thai place in Seattle. 47th and the Ave in the U District.

            2 Replies
            1. re: broksonic

              Thai Tom has great food, but terrible service. Sitting at the counter at an off-hour can be an enjoyable experience... because you're served directly by the cook and get to skip the wait-staff. Otherwise, I avoid Thai Toms.

              1. re: adamb0mb

                Great food? Thai Tom. I beg for sanity, but no, there's nothing great about this restaurant, its food, or its service.

            2. It's worth the trip to go to Noodle Boat in Issaquah (on Gilman).

              1 Reply
              1. re: janedoe67

                I second the Noodle Boat rec - best Thai food I have had in the area, hands down. Call before you go, though - IIRC, they kind of have unusual hours.

              2. I second Thai Tom. It's the only place in Seattle where I don't order my food 5 stars and ask for chili oil and chili flakes on the side.

                5 Replies
                1. re: TruDiner

                  I've found Thai Tom to be very spicy but not at all authentic or well prepared. I used to live in Thailand and have been disappointed with this place. It's been a few years since I've been there so would be willing to try one more time, but am dubious.

                  1. re: seattledebs

                    I believe it. I stick to a single favorite dish each time I go and don't actually know authentic Thai at all. I don't think anything has changed here over the years. I visit about every six months. Mostly, I posted a recommendation just for the fact that if spicy is your thing, you can get it there. I want my food HOT HOT HOT! Whether is Asian, Mexican, Italian, etc... I've had spicer packets of ramen that what some of the noodle houses around Seattle consider 5 stars. Pouring condiments into food to boost the heat and spice is a poor substitute for having good chili's and spices cooked in. Where do you go? Is there some magic word I need to know about?

                    1. re: TruDiner

                      Unfortunately, I can't vouch for authenticity since I dont know what is real and what is not, but we went to a place last night in Everett which was great. Zab Thai, on 99Hway and 112th st. was really tasty. I love HOT and my husband doesn't like HOT but likes hot, so we compromised and got 3 stars. The tom kah soup was great, made our eye water and nose run, the green curry was also 3 stars and just nice and spicy. The other dish we ordered was grilled seafood, so delicious but hot doesnt apply there. We also ordered one dish i cant remember the name of but it was with eggplant and beef and the 2 stars for that was mild. I will highly recommend this restaurant, as tasty and nice wait staff. Our bill was not bad, 45$ for two, with all that food and two hot teas.

                    2. re: seattledebs

                      Agree. Thai Tom is improvised food made with Thai ingredients. It has no balance, no authenticity. It's just all heat, grease, and fish sauce. They constantly keep your water full so you don't realize what they're doing: using heat to mask what is essentially Thai-influenced slop.

                      1. re: fooey

                        The last time I was there - the waiter spilled half of his water pitcher onto my lap. I didn't make a big fuss out of it, but there was no apology forthcoming - which means there was no tip forthcoming either. That same waiter ended up chasing me down 3 blocks and yelling at me, shouting racial epithets.

                        For the poster below who claims their food is just as good as Thailand's - you were evidently in the wrong parts of Bangkok. But then again, it's not that hard to make food taste good if you eat it right out of a fiery wok.

                  2. I like Typhoon, locations on Western by the Hill Climb and also in Redmond in the Bella Bottega complex. The Seattle one has better food somehow even with the same menu. They don't necessarily make it spicy but will bring you a tray of assorted peppers and chili oil if you ask so you can doctor to your taste. The food is really good.

                    I too have tried Thai Ginger. I liked the previous establishment in the Madison Park space called Mangos.

                    There are a few good spots in the U District, at least there were a few years ago when I worked there. My favorite was Little Thai on 42nd (I think) between the Ave and Brooklyn. Family run with good cheap food.

                    1. Okay, I am a bit reluctant to reveal this secret here, but I will because the owners are a nice family and I want to see them do well. Vieng Thong on MLK is the only Thai restaurant I will go to in Seattle. All of my Thai friends say this is the only restaurant they will go to in Seattle. Go there and order the som tam or any of their laab or tom yum soup and you will not be disappointed. They specialize in northern Thai cuisine, so if you're unfamiliar with those dishes you may not like it. If you get the som tam ask for it 'thai style' since their 'lao style' is a bit too funky for most people. If you ask for it spicy they will give it to you spicy, as long as they trust you won't complain. It is so spicy it will give you chills.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: sianwu

                        I agree with Vieng Thong, Thaiku, and Bai Tong. I would add Sea Thai in Wallingford, which does a respectable job with the seattle thai standards, plus adds several dishes that you don't see at the average thai joints, such as Moo Nam Tok, Por Pia Sod, and many others listed on the menu as "Renoo's Specials" or specials "from the white board".

                        1. re: sianwu

                          I'm three blocks from Vieng Thong. Been ordering takeout there since the new millennium. A friend of mine who worked in the Lao social services community said this is the go-to spot for local Lao. We've enjoyed it for years. All that said, seems like it's been slipping recently. We've been getting takeout elsewhere for the last year, but I'll check it out and report back.

                          1. re: sianwu

                            I second Sianwu's Vientthong, We lived in Bangkok for two years, so I like to think I know good Thai. Luckily for us, one of the best Thai/Lao restaurants in Seattle is a little "hole in the wall" called Viengthong Restaurant in Mt. Baker, on MLK between McClellan and Rainier. If you know the Valley, it's in that little plaza just opposite of where the back of the KFC used to be. It's next to a Vietnamese restaurant called Jasmine. You may be put off by the bars on the windows, and the Lao concert posters, but inside it's a charming little space. The owners, I believe, are Laotian so you will find some of your Thai favorites are called different things or served in a slightly diff. version. Try the Phad Lao instead of Phad Thai (even though they do have Phad Thai), and if you like Phad See Ew (the Thai wide noodles in gravy) try their Lard Nar. Viengthong Restaurant 2820 MLK Jr. Way. 725-3884 (I happen to have their takeout menu sitting right here!) They are closed on Mondays .but otherwise 11am -8 pm. The hostess/waitress will give you good guidance on dishes, you can't miss her because she's a tiny little thing with hair to the floor. Word of warning: their "star" system only goes up to 3 stars. We like our Thai spicy, but we only went 2 stars and that was plenty. If you don't like spicy, I would say go somewhere else, because without the garlic chili sauce, the dishes are flavorless ( I found that out the hard way upon ordering some Takeout, she heard my anglo accent and must have assumed I wanted "No stars", had to doctor it up with some Srichaha sauce. Their Tom Yung Goong is great and so is their Larb.

                            1. re: pickledeedee

                              I'll second this, too. My only addition to your post would be that they've got one of the best tilapias in the city. They offer it both fried and steamed. Go with the fried. It comes with a great spicy sauce. We order it everytime we go.

                            1. re: evilbusdriver

                              I love these pissing contests re: authenticity. Read Jennifer 8's new book about Chinese food in America, "Fortune Cookie Chronicles," for a taste (reality check) about authenticity.

                              1. re: Finspot

                                I haven't read the book, but what revelations does it have in regards to authenticity of Chinese food in America?

                              2. re: evilbusdriver

                                I just read this book! The author visits the hometown of General Tso to figure out how that recipe made it so far in America. And she also figures out that fortune cookies were originally made/sold by Japanese immigrants in San Francisco. Mon dieu! Oh and the whole Chinese restaurant employee network bit is fascinating too.

                              3. I actually think Seattle has some really good thai places but I'm not a good judge on authenticity - never been to Thailand.

                                My faves are Tup Tim in lower Queen Anne and for delivery, if you're on the North side, try djan's in Wallingford - inexpensive and most things I've tried are pretty good.

                                1. Madison Park? - for heaven's sake go to the International District.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: vicsailgarden

                                    Really? I don't think there are many Thai places in the International District.

                                  2. I'm not Thai, but was raised in the Asia-Pacific region. I've been exposed to spectacular Thai food and have always had a hard time with Thai restaurants in the US. Often, the food served is muted, flavorless, overly rich and otherwise adjusted for the predominant American palette. Add this on top of the fact that US grown Thai ingredients just aren't as good, and you have a recipe for disappointment. That said, you can still find good (relative) Thai food. In the Seattle area, I fortunately stumbled across "Grandma Thai Cuisine" in Kent, WA, which is the only place I eat Thai here now. Grandma is Thai, cooks a mean Penang and is clean to boot. Watching her cook is a neat pre-meal treat. I especially love that her Penang is graced by a thin piquant layer of flavor infused oil, as it should. Great discovery!

                                    -----
                                    Grandma's Thai Cuisine
                                    603 E Smith St, Kent, WA

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: juzzin

                                      I dig the Penang, Juzzin. Anywhere closer to Seattle that you'd stoop to for Penang?

                                      1. re: Finspot

                                        Not Juzzin, but my favorite Penang in the city is at Thai Siam on 15th and 83rd (crown hill). They do a mean masamam, too.

                                      2. re: juzzin

                                        A few times a year I drive by that place to/from a meeting I go to in Kent. I'll have to check it out!

                                        http://food.gofrolic.org

                                      3. I also have no gauge in authenticity, but I also really like Kwanjai. Thai Tom is the spiciest Ive had in the city. I ordered food with 2.5 stars - and my mouth was on fire! I really like spice - and they nail it.

                                        1. You've gotta go to Thai Tom's, I've eaten a lot of Thai here in Seattle and its by far the best!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: mellowman

                                            Completely disagree. This hole in the wall that so many people rave about is just awful "Thai" food. It's improvised slop made with Thai ingredients at its very best, which isn't saying much. Maybe it was something when its namesake was cooking there, but now it's just greasy crap with too much Nam Pla (fish sauce).

                                          2. I don't mean to be snide .. but I can't imagine that a Thai restaurant serving spicy authentic food in Madison Park would stand a chance. You have to go to a less "tidy" neighborhood to get authentically spiced Thai ... I'll second down where MLK & Rainier meet to Vien Thang. Hardly glamourous, it's in a strip mall that looks like it is about to come down .. but yummy spicy and authentic.

                                            1. As I said nearly a year ago, there are no real Thai restaurants in Seattle. I think the reason for this is there aren't any established Thai neighborhoods like there are for Chinese and Vietnamese and Korean etc. Vieng Thong is very good but I would classify it as a Laotian restaurant not Thai even if they do serve some Thai dishes.
                                              I've been looking for real Thai food in Seattle for awhile. One standard I use is if I walk into a place and I see a dish like "swimming rama" or any dish with "peanut sauce" I immediately walk out. Of course you'll see that swill in every so called "Thai" restaurant in town.
                                              No offense meant to folks who like peanut butter sauce. I'm sure "swimming rama" is a fine dish but it's not Thai.

                                              7 Replies
                                              1. re: evilbusdriver

                                                yep I know that Vieng Thong is mostly Lao .. but still their Thai is the closest to real Thai I've found in town .. I know what you mean about the goopy peanut sauce and I'll add ketchup-ey pad thai to your peeve list. Sometimes you just have to go with what you've got. I do think the place down by the airport in the old drive-in is passable too .... I've heard the Thai airlines crews eat there.

                                                1. re: evilbusdriver

                                                  What is the best you have found? (Grandma Thai is the best I've found)

                                                  Do you have a favorite Thai restaurant outside the state? Vancouver? Elsewhere?

                                                  1. re: juzzin

                                                    The best thai food I've had outside of thailand can be found in Los Angeles on Sunset blvd in the area known as Thai Town. Tons of places there where no one will ever ask you how spicy you want it and no peanut butter sauce found anywhere. But really, real Thai isn't about how spicy it is anyway but that unique combination of hot sour salty and sweet. The problem with Thai in Seattle is too much emphasis on sweet. Whether its ketchup in the pad thai or that god awful peanut butter sauce or too much sugar in the nam pla. You can't blame these places for trying to cater to what they see as the american palate since there isn't a large enough thai population to sustain a real thai place, unlike the large vietnamese and chinese populations we have here.

                                                    1. re: evilbusdriver

                                                      One assumes this dislike for peanut sauce is mere posture. I, for one, find it quite tasty, authentic or not.

                                                  2. re: evilbusdriver

                                                    I think that the notion of finding a "real" thai restaurant is a bit elusive. I understand that people like us don't have any interest in "swimming rama", or muted, sweet compromised flavors. But, several of the local restaurants mentioned here (not to mention others in cities with strong Thai populations)serve both these sorts of watered down dishes and also more authentic and robust fare. This unfortunate concession is a rational business decision for a business seeking to appeal to xenophobe clientle. The sad reality is that no one place has all the authentic dishes that we wish it would. One has to know what to look for and how to ask. Check out the "specials from the white board" at Sea Thai, the items at the back of the menu at Noodle Boat, or the more unique items at Bai Tong or Vieng Thong. Kam Rai Thai on 160th in Shoreline has boat noodle. Order a curry from Sea Thai with the supplemental southern thai curry paste--the heat is substantial and the taste is quite unique.

                                                    P.S. I have heard the practice of ketchup in phad thai was developed by vendors in Bangkok as a cost savings measure. I prefer tamarind myself, but wonder whether ketchup can thus be considered "inauthentic" for this street hawker favorite.

                                                    1. re: equinoise

                                                      I recently moved back the PNW from spending 10 years in the DC area. Some of Thai places I loved here had seriously dumbed down and Americanized their food during my absence, which is sad.

                                                      What makes a place more authentic? Not having travelled to Thailand myself, I usually judge a Thai restaurant by the authenticity of the ingredients as well as the taste. Does the dish include fresh herbs like holy basil and galangal when appropriate? Does it use the little pea or egg sized eggplants instead of the big spongy European kinds? Does the Pad Thai hopefully include things like preserved turnip, tiny dried shrimps, and tamarind? One memorable seafood dish from a great little Thai restaurant in the DC area featured fresh green peppercorns still attached to the stem.

                                                      When possible, I prefer Asian restaurants use Asian ingredients (which should be easy to source these days), i.e. Chinese broccoli rather than Italian broccoli. That being said, doesn’t it seem hard to find really authentic restaurants of any ethnic cuisine?

                                                      1. re: equinoise

                                                        Having lived in BKK for two years I never had a Phad Thai with Ketchup, the first time I had that "pleasure" was in Vancouver, CA. Thought an int'l city like that could hook us up with some good Thai but it was all diluted for the tourists.

                                                    2. my favorite thai restaurants are outside of seattle:

                                                      thai kitchen (bellevue)
                                                      http://www.thethaikitchen.com/flash3....

                                                      chantanee family thai restaurant (bellevue
                                                      )http://www.chantanee.com/

                                                      simply thai (southcenter/tukwila
                                                      )http://www.yelp.com/biz/simply-thai-t...

                                                      1. I find it amazing how people always bash the food and service at Thai Tom. I have spent an extended amount of time in Thailand (6 months, 2 months and 3 weeks over a 3 year period). I find their food to be more authentic to Thai villages or the outskirts of big cities. Hell, it was dead on for the Thai food I had in a gravel parking lot at 5:30am with 6 of my Thai friends after a night of partying. Sure it isn't the most delicate version of thai cooking from a high end restaurant or the tourist version you find on the corner of Kao San Rd, but it definitely tastes good. I've known Tom for almost 10 years and can easily say it is one of the better Thai places in the city. I haven't lived in Seattle for a couple years, but always make sure I get into Thai Tom at least once when I'm in town. I'm sure when I move back I'll try some other places, but for now Thai Tom does it for me.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: petedinNYC

                                                          where is Thai Tom? and what should I order?
                                                          Looking for authentic Thai food as visiting Seattle soon. Had great Thai food in Las Vegas, recently.

                                                          1. re: dec111

                                                            Then by all means, avoid this place. Pete says he hasn't lived here in a couple of years and the word is that Thai Tom's namesake is no where to be found these days. Trust us, avoid it.

                                                            1. re: fooey

                                                              My negative assessment of Thai Tom comes from a visit about 10 years ago. I wasn't impressed even back then.

                                                        2. My favorite Thai spots in the city are May in Wallingford (interesting menu, not just the standard Seattle Thai fare) and the Mae Phim group (Mae Phim takeout downtown, May Ploy in Ballard, etc. all owned by the same family). One caveat - although I did learn to eat "Thai spicy" food during my stay in Thailand as an exchange student years ago, since returning to the US, I certainly do not order my food that spicy anymore. So I am not sure if they will do make-your-eyes-water-and-your-hands-shake spicy. I have had food at both places that were uncomfortably spicy (when ordered spicy), though, so maybe that's good?

                                                          1. Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai Cuisine in Wallingford is easily the best and most authentic place in Seattle, and I have been to Thailand and to most of the places that others have listed. It's west of I-5 on 45th Street in Wallingford. West of the QFC, North side of the street. Pad Kee Mao is especially delicious, and their Peanut Sauce is quite yummy.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. Bai Tong, but even there you'll need to be absolutely clear that you want it "Thai hot."

                                                              6 Replies
                                                              1. re: terrier

                                                                If you are doing the mall thing at Southcenter, and want good Thai skip the chain places on Strander and go down to:
                                                                Mali Thai Cuisine
                                                                17310 Southcenter Pkwy
                                                                Tukwila, WA 98188
                                                                (206) 575-2408
                                                                It's in the plaza with Circuit City and Marshalls, Michaels, etc. It's on the Left side of the plaza. My Thai friends recommended it to me and true enough, I see plenty of Thai customers every time I go, I recommend the Phad See Ew.

                                                                1. re: pickledeedee

                                                                  I stumbled upon Bai Tong at Southcenter today when I was selling some books at the Half Price Book store. (That's the same area as Toys R Us off of Southcenter Parkway) Anyhow, didn't even remember it was mentioned here. Another strip mall place that surprises you on the inside very nice and service very attentive. Larb Gai was delish, and the Mango and sticky rice was too die for. Good, sweet fresh Mango?? In Seattle--OK, Tukwila, yes!

                                                                  1. re: pickledeedee

                                                                    I've only had Thai food in Seattle and in Malaysia. In Malaysia, itwas not greasy, but everywhere I've ever had it in Seattle it was nasty greasy.

                                                                    Is there anywhere in Seattle (besides Racha, the one exception on the grease) to get Thai food that's not super greasy?

                                                                    1. re: pickledeedee

                                                                      The Japanese restaurant in that same strip mall (called Miyabi, I think) is supposed to have a few interesting and good items on the menu too. I haven't been there in many years.

                                                                      1. re: HungWeiLo

                                                                        One of my favorite places to eat is located right between Bai Thong and Miyabi in that same strip. It's called Pho' Tai and is very casual. Our standard order is a barbeque pork salad bowl and an avocado bubble tea. Delicious! We've taken several of our friends there to introduce them to pho food.

                                                                        Funny thing about that strip. On Valentine's Day my hubby and I went looking for someplace to eat. Since we didn't have reservations and had a baby with us, we just went from Toys R Us (ah, the romance!) to the strip. Bai Thong was *packed* with a long waiting period. Pho Tai was pretty busy too even though it's as low rent as possible. So we checked out the Chinese place on the other side of Bai Thong. They were half empty! Instead of waiting for a table for 30+ minutes, people could have walked right next door and be sat immediately! Because it was so empty, we were a little leary about the place, but we ate there anyway. We had a wonderful almond chicken dish (very Americanized for those who don't like that but, oh, so good for those that do), excellent service, and a really nice romantic time (as romantic as you can get with a 10 month old on hand). I have no idea what all those people at Bai Thong were waiting so long for. I've eaten there before, and it's not worth giving up your evening to wait for a table.

                                                                        1. re: happy2sing

                                                                          Pho Tai is a pretty good intro to people for pho. There's a couple of them scattered around the Seattle area. Although it seems these corporate-ish chains seem to charge more for their food than the mom-and-pop's.

                                                                2. My goodness gosh! Did my eyes deceive me or did nobody recommend Buddha Ruksa? Here is their website. http://www.buddharuksa.com/

                                                                  That would be choice 1 for me. I also like other people's recommendations of Thai Kitchen and Mae Phim. Those three immediately came to mind. You might also check out Orrapin Thai in Queen Anne.

                                                                  1. We lived in Thailand for a couple of years and visit every year. We are 3 hours away from the Seattle area and by chance we tried a Thai restaurant in Everett 3 years ago. It was on the expensive side, but very good. We kicked ourselves for not writing it down. This year, we went out of our way to find it. It is called "Lanna Thai" and again it was delicious - we ordered it the hot. I did speak a little Thai to the lady who took our order. I don't know if that made any difference.

                                                                    We had the larb gai, yum woon sen and a red curry. It was too much food for the two of us. However, we would order the first 2 again and either try a soup or a green curry.

                                                                    I checked out the menu and they had some innovative dishes. They also had some interesting cocktails on the menu.

                                                                    Also, we tried Vieng Thong and didn't think that was Thai food.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: whinendine

                                                                      Thats because its Laotian food with a few thai dishes/