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Jul 26, 2008 07:38 PM

Dying for Thai

Hi everyone.

Just moved back to Toronto from NYC and am SO upset with recent Thai food experiences.
Does anyone make a good pad thai in this town? Places that use fresh peanuts and tamarind. Help me! Other dishes you can recommend (I only eat seafood and veggies...no meat)

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  1. The only good Thai food in town, IMO, is at the fairly new Mengrai Thai:


    They have three different pad thais, and one (the original style) is made with tamarind. Their panaeng curry is also fantastic, and they seem to have a version with shrimp (I don't eat much in the way of seafood myself). The morning glory and pumpkin soup is out of this world.

    There are a few other Toronto places that make ketchup-free, tamarind-based pad thais, but they're few and far between.

    6 Replies
    1. re: vorpal

      You might want to try Linda's upstairs from Salad King.
      I have not found another Thai restaurant in this city that is chowworthy.
      I have never eaten at mengraithi.
      Possibly I will chance it on Vorpal's reommendation.

      1. re: erly

        I will admit that I haven't tried Linda's yet, so I can't dismiss it out of hand. Given the reviews here, I must say that I have some curiosity. It's just that Mengrai is so good after I spent years enduring such a futile seach for palatable Thai food in this city that I don't feel the need to continue looking.

        1. re: vorpal

          Linda's is ok, westernized Thai food that taste pretty good. Definitely not authentic though. (Although I must say, don't think an authentic Thai place can stay open in TO...)

          1. re: wciu

            I very much disagree with you wciu, as I suppose it might be where you eat in Thailand.
            I find Linda's menu limited but quite authentic.
            It is more refined, and not related to street food.
            I am not denigrating street food, but on our first trip to Thailand, several years ago, I became quite ill from the experience, and on our subsequent trips, we have eaten at restaurants only.

      2. re: vorpal

        I'll happily 2nd vorpal's rec for Mengrai Thai. It's a good place for a date as well.

        1. re: vorpal

          Ohmigosh. Will be there tomorrow. Thanks for the tip.

        2. Whatever you do avoid Salad King. One of the worst meal experiences I've had in this city.

          29 Replies
          1. re: Ron M

            i honestly wish i knew why you'd say that.

            the only ungreat thing about Salad King is the picnic-bench seating. the food is quite great - probably some of the better Thai you will get in the city. and the prices are still quite reasonable (even their beer prices are really cheap).

            I had Xaphire the other day (Eglinton and Avenue) and it wasn't bad. We had the authentic pad thai and i liked it more than the typical pad thai you get. was quite tasty with a small kick to it. was missing the sweetness (i.e. ketchup) you find at most places.

            1. re: atomeyes

              I suppose that it's a matter of opinion, but as someone that has studied Thai cuisine extensively for the last decade, I have to say that while Salad King may offer okay food at very reasonable prices, it fails to capture the depth that actual real Thai cuisine offers. It's essentially a severe simplification where the cutting of corners is entirely evident: the flavours are shallow and blase, and don't stimulate the taste buds in their entirety in the way that real Thai food does. I've eaten there on a few occasions and while I found the atmosphere and service to be disappointing, I found the food to be much more so. The green curry was so lacking in depth that it did a huge disservice to its patrons and to Thai cuisine in general.

              I'm of the idea that Toronto deserves to experience the intricacies of Thai food in its entirety and the profound blissful joys that it brings. Salad King is essentially the McDonald's of Thai: it gives the equivalent of a decent burger and fries that can be enjoyed, but to call it good eats is a vast stretch. Or alternatively, it's like saying that by eating at Mandarin or Ho Lee Chow, you've experienced Chinese food.

              People look to Italian and French food with this reverence that I can appreciate, but often dismiss Thai food out of hand. Thai food, IMO, is at least as complex as these two styles of cooking. I feel that the lack of good Thai food in Toronto has a negative impact on the minds of the city's population on the sophistication of this cuisine, and that is an utter shame that restaurants like Salad King are guilty of propagating.

              1. re: vorpal

                I would have to agree with Vorpal and Ron M. I had gone to Salad King once a few years back when a friend organized a get together. I swore I would never go back. So far, I have stayed true to my word.

                But to each their own - I know that Spring Rolls is also doing quite well. What's great about the city is that there is something for everyone. I would definitely bring my business elsewhere though. Mengrai Thai is currently my go-to place, though I have heard some good things about Linda's upstairs from Salad King. The fact that she's associated with Salad King though has prevented me from actually going though. But maybe I will get over my phobia one day...

                1. re: BokChoi


                  BokChoi, I too, heard good things about Linda, but I couldn't overcome the Salad King association and didn't end up trying it before relocating out of the Toronto area.

                  In general, I'm hesitant to listen to recommendations from Torontonians regarding Thai food. This is not because I think Torontonians have poor taste in food, but more because they have, due to the Toronto Thai restaurant scene, very low expectations of Thai food and a skewed misrepresentation of what it actually constitutes.

                  Thank goodness for Mengrai, but boo on me for having discovered it less than a year before moving away.

                  1. re: vorpal

                    Perhaps the recent "busloads" are due to Joanne Kate's rave a few weeks ago. "Who knew there was good Thai in Toronto?" Maybe they're having trouble handling the crowds?

                    1. re: vorpal

                      Vorpal, what is your most recent overall assessment of Linda? I was thinking of trying it out sometime. Since I only have a limited amount of money, I would like to put it to best use - Mengrai or Linda? I put emphasis on trying new things, so I would like to 'discover' something new, but not if it will be a disappointment. The #54 is getting a bit old for me - any suggestions on what else to try? I have had the original pad thai, the striped bass and the lunch seafood curry. The striped bass was nice, but did not blow my mind (a bit overcooked for my tastes). The original pad thai was solid, but once again, it wasn't the revelation that the #54 was for me last year. I did not enjoy the lunch seafood curry that much (loved the appetizers - taro, soup, morning glory, and coconut rice and rice pudding). Wondering if there was something I was missing. How are her other preparation methods?


                      1. re: vorpal

                        Thanks for the recommendations on the dishes, Vorpal. I tried the Penang curry and enjoyed it quite a lot. To be honest though, I could not taste much of a difference between the Penang and the #54 with lychees. I felt the only large difference was the lack of the lychees (which I really enjoy). Do you know what the exact difference is between their two versions? I would like to find out. I believe their #54 (red curry) tastes so similar to their Penang and I feel like I'm missing out on some subtle flavours (or drastic and I am really quite dense). Please let me know so that I can look out for those tastes next time. I will try the fried rice next time. Is the Thai Curry Fried Rice better than the Thai fried rice? What is best?


                    2. re: vorpal

                      And if by chance you do recommend Linda's - can you suggest some dishes to try? Thanks so much. I really am appreciative of your recommendation of Mengrai. What a find...

                      1. re: BokChoi

                        Oh, and I have to thank Googs for introducing me to Mengrai. I can't take all the credit for this recommendation!

                        1. re: vorpal


                          Thanks so much for clarifying that - I read it incorrectly! I read it as he didn't try it until after he moved out of the city. Darn. Thanks for the suggestions, I will give them a try!

                          OK, where did Vorpal's suggestions of "what to try" go?!

                          1. re: BokChoi

                            Hey BokChoi, if you read vorpal's message above, you'll see that he hasn't been to Linda's. The fish curry hot pot and the duck curry are both lovely at Linda's. And her homemade chile sauce is really good, too.

                            1. re: TorontoJo

                              I haven't been to Lindas in about a year, but the menu is small, and the food more refined than Mengrai which we tried after Googs and Vorpals suggestion.
                              Mengrai is more fun, and we have been back a couple of times.
                              I judge a Thai restaurant by their soup, and Lindas soups are excellent.
                              We have been to Thailand three times in the past two years, but I am far from an expert on Thai food, but Lindas although not perfect or a "wow" has been the closest to what we had there.
                              A really outstanding Thai restaurant in T.O.....no
                              We recently had better Thai food in a little local hangout in Brussels that was run by a Chinese family.

                              1. re: erly

                                Thanks erly. Good to know. I'll be checking it out and the soup will be on the list - anything in particular?

                                1. re: erly

                                  Hi erly and TorontoJo, I agree with your comment on Linda. Have been there a few times for their tasting menu which is $30 for like 4 courses, very good value, I did get some bad dishes but I also get some very delicious dishes like the Lobster spicy coconut soup and fish curry hot pot.

                                  1. re: skylineR33

                                    That is funny, as I was just about to recommend these same dishes to Bok Choi.
                                    The Chicken Coconut soup is good as well.
                                    Skyline, we both seem to like, and dislike the same foods,...and restaurants.

                                    1. re: erly

                                      Thanks for the suggestions erly and skylineR33. I will try those dishes. Seems like this place is another winner. I will also try the Matahari Bar & Grill that Vorpal suggested.

                                      Thanks for the tips CHers. Much appreciated.

                                      1. re: BokChoi

                                        Is this the Matahari on Baldwin St.? If so, don't get your hopes up. Go in with low expectations and you may be pleasantly surprised. I had dinner there once last May and wouldn't go back.

                                        1. re: Food Tourist

                                          Thanks for the suggestion Food Tourist. I hope I will be pleasantly surprised then. I will report back.

                                      2. re: erly

                                        On my two most recent visits to Mengrai Thai, I have noticed that the quality has been slipping a bit. I am not sure if I just went on bad days, or something is starting to change. They were MUCH busier on these visits, perhaps due to the favourable reviews they have received in The Globe/etc. However I would have to say I was disappointed. There was just something missing in the curries and they did not 'enlighten' me the way they used to. Each meal about a year ago used to be a revelation of sorts. Now, it's just a good curry meal.

                                        I had the pleasure of trying Linda's Restaurant last month and was very happy with my meal. The portions were generous and the ingredients used were amazing. The flavours were more 'fusion' in a sense, but I enjoyed every last bite. I would definitely return and I believe this place has taken Mengrai's spot on my list for best Thai in the city. I would highly recommend giving it a try. The prices are very reasonable for what you get. I am surprised it was the same creators as Salad King! Too bad I have avoided this place for so long. Especially now since it is moving locations and will be out of the way for me. Alas, I plan on dining there again soon and will post a longer review. Thanks for the recs everyone. I am so happy I tried it.


                                        1. re: BokChoi

                                          where is Linda moving to? is Salad King moving too?

                                          1. re: auberginegal

                                            auberginegal, I heard that they are moving North to this new foodie development (Eglinton or Lawrence near the DVP sounds familiar) - sorry, my memory is terrible. Salad King is apparently taking over both floors and will remain at the current location.

                                            1. re: BokChoi

                                              i wonder if this is the same thing where Zen is said to be moving to in the other thread? At Inn on the Park

                                              1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                                That's what I was thinking as well. I tried asking the one who mentioned this (I was like - this would be heaven for me if it were true - too far away though unfortunately for me) and they said that the Linda's building would be up in Spring. As far as I heard from Zen the last time I spoke with them, they wouldn't be moving until late in the year because the building was not anywhere near completion yet. But once again, my shoddy memory is preventing me from making a definitive conclusion. I'll try to inquire again when I return to Linda's and Zen.

                                          2. re: BokChoi

                                            Was Sasi actually in the kitchen? She frequently takes a time out this time of year. Typically to Thailand for vacation/research.

                                            That aside, yes the Kates bump has been known to temporarily overwhelm restaurants stretching them to their absolute limits. I wouldn't write Sasi off that quickly. I'd just wait it out until the hype heat dies off.

                                            1. re: Googs

                                              Googs, I am not sure if Sasi was there (the staff members all claimed she was). I would have to say my last visits were during October/November, so it wasn't that recently that I went. I will probably go again, I just felt that something was missing - that she was beginning to trim down on the ingredients in her curries.

                                              In addition, I had a wonderful meal at Linda's and will probably be heading there for my Thai meals from now on. I will write a longer review soon when I get a chance. Wrote the NB and Zucca one today, so I think I'm all reviewed out for a touch.


                                    2. re: TorontoJo

                                      Thanks for the suggestions - I'll report back once I try it. Vorpal, do come back and find some great new places for us to try when you have a chance! Too bad Toronto has lost you...
                                      Thanks to Googs as well

                                      1. re: BokChoi

                                        Bokchoi, check out this thread for some more ideas: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/406710

                                        Despite the title, there are some good recommendations there.

                                        1. re: Chester Eleganté

                                          Thanks Chester Elegante. Any recent thoughts? Those posts seem a bit dated. TIA

                            2. re: atomeyes

                              Felt the need to revive this thread to comment on Xaphire. I live in the 'hood and have eaten in and taken out from there off and on for the last several years. I've found it to be a bit hit and miss, with the hits being quite good and the misses being simply okay/meh. Last night was a new low in the miss department.

                              We ordered take out. The only really good item was the spicy beef, which we quite enjoyed. The veggie cold rolls were fine but unexciting; they were lacking the fresh mint which usually transforms them into something more flavourful than than what we got last night. The cashew chicken was meh -- nothing really objectionable about it, but nothing really exciting about it either. The flavour wasn't particularly complex, and the veggies were more overdone than usual (though, to be fair, this could be a prodcut of having taekn out rather than eaten in). The hugely low point was the traditional pad thai. I've had some crappy pad thai before, but this took the cake. It was sweet in a way I have trouble even describing; the best I can come up with is to suggest that it tasted like apple juice. Bizarre, but true. On top of the overwhelming sweetness, it had no other discernable flavours to help it redeem itself. My husband and I both ate a bit, and promptly threw the rest in the garbage.

                              I really hope that last night was an aberration and that this isn't a sign of things to come in the future. It's been a while since I last ate there prior to last night -- anyone else have any recent experiences (either good or bad)?

                              Also, does anyone have any recommendations re: better Thai take-out/delivery in the Y&E area?

                          2. I also like Ivory Thailand, at Church and Adelaide. Their red duck curry is SO good. (Avoid Golden Thai just up the street).

                            1. I tried Thai2Go on Gerrard near River St last night. Had the royal phad thai & duck spring rolls. Both were tasty and travelled well (25 min walk home).

                              A little pricer than other Thai joints and of course it is take away only but I will go back for sure.

                              1. I just made a large post for Mengrai Thai that includes photos. Check it out - it's by far the best Thai restaurant I have sampled in the city. Also, great atmosphere. Service seems a bit spotty - but they're new, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

                                Here are the photo links:
                                Pumpkin Soup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
                                Thai Iced Tea: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
                                Appetizer Combo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
                                Flowers: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
                                #54 Red Curry: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
                                Striped Bass: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...
                                Sticky Rice: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28531775...

                                I also agree that one should avoid Salad King like the plague. Another disaster is Spring Rolls - anyone who employs ketchup to make a red Pad Thai should be forcibly removed from the kitchen.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: BokChoi

                                  Great pictures, will have to give this place a try, after Zen! Your sticky rice link doesn't work?

                                  1. re: red dragon

                                    Sorry Red Dragon! Thanks for the heads-up.
                                    When I cut and pasted the links, it got cut off:

                                    Not one of my best photos though (by dessert, the lighting was quite poor)

                                    1. re: BokChoi

                                      Looks yummy though, thanks for re-posting!