Best Upscale Thai Food in Chicago?
The Thai restaurant that, other than Arun's, is the most upscale is probably Vong's Thai Kitchen, in River North. The food there is good, and the prices aren't as sky-high as Arun's. It's a good place if you're in the area or you're specifically looking for a nicer Thai place. www.vongsthaikitchen.com
IMHO the Thai restaurant with the very best Thai food in the entire Chicago area is Thai Sookdee, in Evanston. The best tom kha gai in the area, wonderful panang curries, great lahb chicken, and almost everything I've had there is consistently excellent (except the pad thai is just okay). The decor is somewhat upscale (e.g. white tablecloths, comfortable seats) - not quite as nice as Vong's, but still reasonably nice, and a significant step up from most Thai restaurants. www.thaisookdee.com
I also like the food at altThai in Arlington Heights a lot. Its decor is more contemporary, which gives it a bit of an upscale feel. www.altthai.com
If you really like Thai food, you also ought to try the city places that have the Thai-language menus, too, to see if you like them. These are NOT upscale at all, just your basic ethnic storefront restaurants. I like the more common Thai dishes better at Thai Sookdee, but these places have more unusual dishes you can't find elsewhere. These include TAC Quick, Sticky Rice ( www.stickyricethai.com ), and Spoon Thai ( www.spoonthai.com ).
Also see the recommendations in the topic at www.chowhound.com/topics/491970
(FWIW, I'm not a big fan of Arun's. I went there years ago and thought that the food was similar to the better Thai places, but the cost was much higher. But if you're looking for upscale, it's easily the most upscale Thai place in the Chicago area. www.arunsthai.com )
i'm going to have to disagree with thai sookdee being an "upscale thai" place.. i tried their original hot #1 and their pad kee mao. both were just gross and not like any thai food that i've eaten at other restaurants... not good at all. i don't know about their other dishes; some of their appetizers looked pretty good, but it's definitely not gourmet.
That depends on how you define "upscale". To me, it has to do with the service, atmosphere, and decor, not the food. And Thai Sookdee is pretty darn good on all those counts - not "fine dining" like Arun's, but a significant step above most storefront places. The atmosphere is nice, with comfortable seats, white tablecloths, and plenty of space between tables so you don't feel like you're on top of the people at the next table, and the service is friendly and efficient.
As for the food, I don't think the food itself necessarily connotes "upscale" or "downscale"; Arun's is the perfect example of this, as I don't think of their food as being any more upscale or gourmet than most Thai restaurants (except in price), although their decor and service are a cut above. Regarding the food at Thai Sookdee, I haven't had either of the dishes you mention, but the dishes I've had there have been consistently excellent (other than the previously mentioned pad thai). As I mentioned above, their tom kha gai and panang are both wonderful. Other dishes I've had there in my dozens of visits include the lahb chicken, deep-fried whole red snapper, chicken satay, mango with sticky rice, and thai iced tea, and I've really liked all of them. I've tried most of the same dishes at roughly 50 different Thai restaurants in the Chicago area over the years, including some of the most-frequently-recommended places (TAC Quick, Sticky Rice) within the past year, and Thai Sookdee has the very best Thai food I've had in the area since another favorite closed about ten years ago.
If price is unimportant, then Arun's should be your go to place. If you go to any of the other great Thai places around town, don't be surprised if you are kinda let down by Arun's. The prices there are not very appealing. I don't know many people that think Arun's is anywhere near worth the price tag. Especially with Spoon, Sticky, and Tac aound. If you are looking for Thai food, I don't think Vong's is the place for you. If you are looking for Thai inspired food and need to be "seen," then VTK might be a choice. It's NICE, but it's not gonna knock yer sox off. If you are looking for FLAVORS that will mess with your head, you will probably be very surprised at what other places can offer for about 1/3 of the price of Arun's. If you are looking more for a setting, then Arun's has the mkt cornered for good food + setting. I'm more interested in good food than the setting, so I really don't need to go to Arun's anymore. Doesn't even cross my mind. Tac is my Thai joint of choice recently.