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Exceptional thai food?

I'm a little confused with all of the good vs. bad thai food reviews in Toronto...is there a definitive place that serves excellent thai food that is fairly authentic in a nice, ambient setting? Price not really an object.

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  1. I haven't been to Bangkok Gardens because I can't justify paying their prices for Thai food when making good and authentic dishes is so cheap and easy at home, but they *might* fit the bill. Search here for reviews on them. Another candidate is Young Thailand, which is the only Thai restaurant I'll go to in Toronto when I'm too lazy to cook Thai that I find both decent and reasonably authentic.

    Toronto is *seriously* lacking in good and authentic Thai food. This is evident by suggestions of Salad King and Spring Rolls as reasonable places to dine. I've found that most of Toronto's offerings are toned down, Chinesey-fusion Thai-like dishes served in trendy restaurants that try to make up for the lack of substance with aesthetics, which is sadly, probably the experience that most "Thai-eating" folk want. I think that there's very much room for a truly great Thai restaurant to open in this city, and hopefully that will happen eventually.

    15 Replies
    1. re: vorpal

      Hi vorpal,
      We were looking for a very good Thai restaurant for our annivesary tomorrow night and my husband was thinking of Young Thailand ... I hope we won't be disappointed, but you're right, it's hard to find a decent place without the high prices.

      1. re: red dragon

        I haven't been to the new location yet (I keep meaning to), and I know the old Church St location went really downhill for awhile, but just before they moved I gave them another chance and was completely delighted. They definitely reclaimed their former glory, IMO. If you go - and I hope you will - I'd love to hear how you found it. I may have to make the long trek this week now that my brain has been reminded of it!

        1. re: vorpal

          Hello again,
          I'm really stuck between Young Thailand and Golden Thai right now, but will let you know how I make out .. .thanks.
          Could you tell me how the decor at Young Thailand is and if the new location is the one at Dundas/Keele area?

          1. re: red dragon

            The new location is at Dundas and Keele. As for decor... florescent lights, regular tables and chairs. Nothing fancy.

            1. re: cecilia

              How does the decor compare to the old Church St location? That place was a lovely haven in the hustle and bustle of TO. Is it decidedly undecorated, then? Do they use tablecloths? Do they have the old assortment of plants?

              Frankly, I think YT, for flavour, is leagues ahead of GT, but GT did have ambience as good as the old YT. If the new YT is much inferior, then on that point, GT will far surpass.

              red dragon: whatever you decide, please let us know. I would love to hear how you enjoy it!

              1. re: vorpal

                Hi again, I posted to you above but wanted to add to your post above that yes, Golden Thai has the ambience, Young Thailand has the flavour. I've never been to any of the YT locations while they were open but my former boss (who has impeccable tastes) always went there.

                No tablecloths, but they did have bamboo place mats, some Thai decorations, and yes, I think I saw some plants. I have to say again, it's not the greatest for ambience,, but this is just my opinion. Hope this helps

          2. re: vorpal

            Hi vorpal ... an update for you! Went to Golden Thai for our anniversary dinner last night and believe it or not, went for lunch at Young Thailand today. Pls read my update on the Golden Thai posting.

            For Young Thailand, first of all, got lost from directions given. Place is not the greatest for decor, but it is in a different neighbourhood now.. kind of reminds me of Chinatown (inside). We ordered the lunch specials (no buffet anymore). The pad thai (with ketchup) was good ... my husband had the chicken strips (can't recall the exact name) and also the red curry pork. All specials came with two spring rolls and a choice of soup for $6.99 and rice (except the noodle dishes). There was only one waiter and a manage on duty. I would have to say the food is better than Golden Thai, but if you're looking for ambience, this is definitely not the place to go. We may return, but then again, there are some other great reviews of other thai restaurants as well. Wandee, the owner was not in while we were there, but heard she was on her way in. Any other questions, please let me know.

            Also, I read your posting about wanting to go to Hawaii (I tried to find your email address). Just wanted to let you know I got married there and it was the best vacation ever! We're planning to go back, but it's very pricey.

            1. re: red dragon

              Thanks for letting me know! It's too bad that the ambience of the new YT is lacking... I found that the old Church St location was fairly nice and after a long day in downtown TO, it was a great sanctuary from the chaos and hubbub of the city.

              I'm sorry to hear that you both found Golden Thai disappointing. Frankly, apart from YT, I've never found a Thai restaurant in Toronto that didn't disappoint me, at least a little bit. If you really do like Thai food, I definitely recommend trying to make it at home. It's often quite simple and takes less time than other meals (depending, of course, on what you make and how much effort you feel you want to put into it, but even simple recipes are often delicious).

              I actually went to Hawaii on my honeymoon two summers ago, both to Oahu and the Big Island. I completely fell in love with it and my partner and I are planning on moving there as soon as I'm done my PhD. I love Canada, but I've been landlocked long enough and it's time for some palm trees and beaches for me :-).

              It was funny because I own Keo's Thai cookbook and always wanted to try his restaurant in Hawaii, as apparently he's one of the better Thai cooks in the US. As a random coincidence, our hotel actually ended up being right over top of his restaurant! The food was very good, but my addiction to Thai definitely left our wallets a lot thinner after that trip ;p.

              My e-mail: vorpal22 at gmail. Feel free to send me a message if you want to chat more!

              1. re: vorpal

                Hi Vorpal ... just to let you know, I emailed you at vorpal22@gmail.com, hope I got that right .. subject was "fellow chowhound poster"

        2. Pick up David Thompson's "Thai Food" book, or Kasma Loha-Unchit's "It Rains Fishes" and try some of the recipes in there. Then you'll see the difference. The offerings in most of Toronto's restaurants substitute North American ingredients (e.g. regular broccoli for gai lan, ketchup for tamarind paste, or adding copious quantities of carrot as filler) at a huge loss of authenticity, consistency, and flavour. This is incomprehensible given that Thai ingredients are plentiful in Toronto and I can find gai lan at any Chinatown store for a song. The food at most restaurants is also quite unbalanced in the breadth of its flavour and lacks the liveliness of real Thai food, which should make the palate dance and stimulate the whole mouth.

          Really, if you haven't picked up one of the aforementioned books and given a few recipes a try, you're doing yourself a disservice to the breadth and quality of Thai food. The Toronto Reference Library has both: go photocopy a few pages, take an afternoon trip to Chinatown, and then spend a few hours making a homemade curry and a stir fried dish. You won't regret it: it really is a treat and you'll feel like you've died and gone to heaven for hours afterwards.

          Oh, and do try something other than Pad Thai. People seem to have this idea that Pad Thai is the quintessential Thai dish. It can be very good (especially made at home - it's frequently disappointing at restaurants here), but I encourage people to branch out as there are so many different and delightful tastes to explore with Thai food. It's disheartening to have friends and family go to Thai restaurants again and again and insist on Pad Thai.

          1. re: vorpal

            Ketchup in Pad Thai - I remember seeing a Pad Thai recipe from the owner of Young Thailand (Wendee?) many years (10+) ago and it has ketchup, so naive me thought it MUST be authentic!

            Gai lan - I've been lucky enough to find gai lan almost in all the Pad see ew I've had in recent memory; IFRC Buppha Thai, Spice Thai etc.

            Edit: I meant Rad na talay. Is Pad see ew very different?

            1. re: Teep

              Young Thailand definitely uses ketchup in their pad thai. I had some a while ago where a big glob of it wasn't mixed in properly. Gross.

              1. re: Teep

                Wandee Young's cookbook, Simply Thai, featuring recipes from her YT restaurants, does not list ketchup as an ingredient in her pad thai. I own both the older and newer versions of this book, and it was the text that led me to my adoration of Thai food: I can't recommend it highly enough for beginners (who aren't ready for the more complex works of Thompson and Loha-Unchit).

                That being said, I never order pad thai at restaurants, so she may well use ketchup at her establishments and the recipe doesn't mirror her serving. I do recall going to her lunch buffet once and noting that the pad thai was ominously pinkish red.

                Pad See Ew vs Radnar Talay: Pad See Ew is typically drier and made with land meats (pork, beef, or chicken). Radnar Talay is seafood based, generally with a thicker, more ample, and considerably sweeter sauce, in my experience. They're significantly different, and both delightfully enjoyable in their own right.

                Gai lan is great stuff. I don't know why some cooks use regular broccoli (which I enjoy in its own right) which doesn't have that ever so slightly siliconey flavour and vastly different texture that differentiates it from broccoli.

                (Excuse the use of alternating capitalization / non-capitalization in the names of Thai dishes. I purchased some high quality insanely cheap vodka - they give the stuff away - on my trip to Panama last week, and I've indulged a tad too much tonight.)

            2. Its hard to describe if you haven't been to Thailand. I think it has a lot to do with the freshness of the ingredients, the food there was incredible and always super fresh and the flavous were so distinct with lots of fresh herbs and spices. I realize this is not a very specific description but its really something you have to try.

              Went to Salad King for lunch the other day, I used to love this place before it was renovated. What has happened to the food? My dish included mushrooms from a can. Enough said.

              1. re: ddelicious

                I am so jealous of you people who have been to Thailand :D. For financial reasons, I've held off, considering I shall likely be moving to Hawaii in a few years when the flight will be much more affordable to a student. In the interim, I've done my best to study the cuisine from afar and I'm completely in love. It was the style of cookery that liberated me from the stubborn childish insistence I had on North American / Italian fare and introduced me to world (esp. South Asian) cuisine. Prior to my introduction to Thai food (which happened at Young Thailand) at the age of 20, my adventurous nature led me to the daring peaks of the consumption of roast beef, onion rings, and if I was feeling particularly experimental, lemon chicken at Chinese buffet ;-).

                I can only imagine how fantastic Thai must taste with the freshest possible available ingredients. In the interim, I scour Chinatown for lesser ginger, holy basil, and other Thai essentials.

            3. There is no Thai community of any size here, so the chances of "exceptional" food are nil.

              1 Reply
              1. re: koknia

                So is this then because they're trying too hard to cater to the Torontonian palate? It's a shame, because real Thai food is so lively and dances in your mouth, unlike the bland slop that most places serve. Hell, even the Thai kitchen-operated restaurants I know of (at least, I'm quite sure the cooks are Thai) are mediocre at best despite the abundance of virtually every common Thai ingredient in this city.

              2. Maybe I ask too much!!

                OK, how about stepping down from "exceptional" to "yummy and satisfying"? Would that give a few more options?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Suburban Gourmand

                  For yummy and satisfying, I would also hesitantly recommend Thai Paradise on Baldwin:
                  http://www.thaiparadise.ca

                  Most of their dishes are at least good, although there are a small number of disappointments (I've found the desserts are lacking, for example, and the satays tend to be overcooked). Still not all that authentic, but worth a go, especially since the prices are pretty reasonable, the ambience is nice, and the staff is very friendly and attentive. Warning if you have a bad back, though: the chairs lack back support, and if you plan on spending a long evening there, you might find you get progressively uncomfortable as time wanes on.

                  As for recommendations, the cold spring rolls are usually divine, served with chicken, vermicelli, basil, and a hoisin dipping sauce. The hot spring rolls are good, but not great. I still enjoy them. The basil beef and basil chicken are nice, provided you ask for extra spicy and extra basil. Pad See Ew here is usually fantastic, but it's been off a few times for me. The green chicken curry is generally very nice as well, and for those who love mussaman (here called "golden" or, suprisingly, "red") curries (I'm not a huge fan), people tend to say good things about them. They are missing some staples, like panaeng and your run-of-the-mill red curries.

                  Honestly, I'd say that Young Thailand is a better bet. I like Thai Paradise predominantly because it's close to the University so I can grab food there between long sessions in my lab.

                2. I wrote about Thai Angels on College, the owner/cook told me they are cooking the dishes as they did in Thailand. Not having been there I don't know how true it is, but they have a Thai style Pad Thai that includes pickled radish and not ketchup. I also had a "shrimp pancake" there, I said it reminds me of the Vietnamese Bahn Xeo, the cook said yes, there is a lot of Vn. influenced cooking in Thailand, in fact one of the workers in the resto is half Vn. There is another dish that I've not seen elsewhere - Duck with lychee. I don't know how "authentic" this all is.

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/383714

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Teep

                    I agree that pickled radish really makes a pad thai a pad thai. It strongly sophisticates the flavour, and sadly, most places neglect to add it.

                    Duck with lychee sounds grand, authentic or not. I made a delicious red curry chicken with lychees (inspired, I must admit, by a similar dish at Sasi Thai), and it was divine.

                  2. I have always had good food at: 1) Thai Shan Inn on Eglinton, West of Dufferin and 2) Vanipha Lanna on St. Clair, East of Oakwood. Both are very good.

                    The former is a tiny and diner-like and the latter is more laotian than thai but both have very good food.

                    Anyone have any comments about these two?

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: acd123

                      I've been to both. Neither impressed me very much. My experience at Thai Shan Inn was better than Vanipha Lanna (which was far more recent). Since my visit to Thai Shan Inn was years ago, the memories are fuzzy and I won't comment further.

                      As for VL - I wrote in another post - everything (except for Tom Yum) we ordered was borderline gross. I was surprised that it gets such good feedback. While we were famished we could not choke down he food and no one wanted to take it home. We might've ordered the wrong things, for sure, but they were really, really wrong... I might even go so far as saying it has been my WORST Thai experience in the city.

                      1. re: Delish

                        Basically I agree.
                        Thai Shan Inn has gone seriously downhill. It used to be in my Toronto top ten best, but two recent visits were very disappointing. I've never liked Vanipha Lanna - barely OK food and slow service.
                        Haven't tried the 'new' Young Thai - but the 'old' ones also went downhill.
                        My favourite is still Linda's.

                        1. re: estufarian

                          Agree, have been to quite a few thai restaurants (> 10) in Toronto including Young Thailand, Golden Thai, Sasi Thai, Thai Paradise, Linda/Salad King, Mai Thai ...
                          I think Linda is at the top of my list. Maybe there is a little bit of fusion into it, but it is the most tasty one for me.

                          1. re: estufarian

                            In defense of Young Thailand, they went disastrously downhill (especially the John St. location), but prior to the move, completely redeemed themselves.

                            1. re: vorpal

                              We ate at Vanipha Lanna this evening after reading a few reasonably good reviews on here. Atrocious service (3 hours for two courses). You can find my review on here by searching on my name. We've eaten at Young Thailand at the newest location (The Junction) recently and have been overjoyed at the quality (we were also big Sasi fans to the point of actually helping them out for a while). You can read my review of Vanipha here http://www.chowhound.com/topics/102408

                              1. re: Adrianjsc

                                If you're a Sasi fan, then please try Mengrai Gourmet. You'll really enjoy the experience. I'm sure eventually I'll convince a fellow Hound to take the plunge.
                                http://www.mengraithai.com/

                        2. re: acd123

                          Thai Shan Inn is Thai food interpreted by cooks who have never been to Thailand. Haven't been to Vanipha Lanna, but if it is anything like the old Vanipha on Dundas, it isn't great. Not to say it ain't tasty, it's just not Thai. (I've lived and worked in Bangkok, so I'm fussy.)
                          As Vorpal says, they don't take advantage of the ingredients available here. Curry pastes are all squeezed out of a packet rather than made fresh. That's why you can make far better Thai food at home.
                          Example - whenever a Thai menu here says "Thai basil", they use "bai hora-pa' instead of the correct "bai gra-pao". This is like substituting parsley for coriander.
                          Pad Thai here is goopy and gross. It should be somewhat dry and have crunchy chunks of "chi po" (pickled turnip). I also like it wrapped in a thin omlette ('haw khai").

                          Toronto has so many authentic, incredible food options that I just forget Thai completely.
                          My 2 cents...

                          1. re: koknia

                            I haven't been to Thai Shan Inn or Vanipha Lanna in a couple of years. I am like Koknia in that I don't go for Thai in TO anymore, since returning from my second trip to Thailand in 2005. It's just so good there that everything here seems crappy.

                            One question though: does anyone know where to get authentic Laab Gai - incendiary Thai chicken salad with roasted rice powder. I had it at my friend's wedding in Rayong near Bangkok. I am a huge chili head and it nearly made me cry. I'm sure I won't get anything near that hot in TO, but it was absolutely amazing. I found a recipe on the internet, sourced some roasted ground rice powder at an Asian market and made it myself. It's a bit of a production so I would love to find it at a restaurant here. Also, I want to measure it against the one I made at home.

                            1. re: acd123

                              Sorry for the interruption, but we've split a digression about making Laab Gai at home to the Home Cooking board. Here's a link to that thread:

                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/397888

                              Please discuss making Laab Gai there, so that we can keep the discussion here focused on Thai restaurants in Toronto.

                              Thanks!