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Why is Thai food in boston so bad?

manish01 Dec 22, 2008 11:00 AM

Until a couple of years ago I hated Thai Food so much so that I would actively avoid it.
Then I had real Thai food first in DC (Thai Square) and then in NYC (Sripraphai).
So I gotta wonder why does Boston have such bad Thai food?

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  1. Bob Dobalina RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 11:05 AM

    Not sure what you're talking about - which Boston Thai places that you have sampled are so bad? What makes them so (bad)?

    1. Luther RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 11:12 AM

      I don't think you can fairly compare any US city's Thai food, in general, to somewhere like Sri which is near-universally regarded as the best Thai restaurant in a very large city.

      I like S&I the best around here, but you won't get many remarkable dishes if you order off the English menu.

      1. t
        Taralli RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 11:16 AM

        Just a suggestion but, perhaps by posting a positive query e.g., "What are your favorite, authentic Thai places to eat," would reward you with helpful responses to this oft asked question.

        1. Prav RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 11:19 AM

          So you've only had Thai food at two different places? (Yes, yes, I know Sripraphai is pretty legendary.)

          18 Replies
          1. re: Prav
            manish01 RE: Prav Dec 22, 2008 11:50 AM

            Its systemic to Boston ... we have pretty good all other types of ethnic restaurants but fall flat when it comes to Thai and I am just flummoxed as to why.

            1. re: manish01
              hiddenboston RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 12:00 PM

              I dunno...I think that Khao Sarn and Dok Bua (both in Brookline) are good, as well as Thai Moon and Sweet Chili (both in Arlington), and then there's Montien (Theater District) and Brown Sugar (Comm. Avenue). I guess it's just a matter of opinion....

              1. re: hiddenboston
                9lives RE: hiddenboston Dec 22, 2008 12:11 PM

                I probably go to Montien the most because it's most convenient for me. Be sure to ask for the Thai menu. Most of the staff is from Thailand, and go home to visit often; so they must know something about cooking Thai food.

                Khao Sarn, I like for their how moak. Dok Bua is very good but someone just reported big price increases. There's another sort of take out place in the area that people here seem to like.

                BTW, aren't you the poster who got bumped from 10 Tables? Maybe you just have bad restaurant luck..:)

                1. re: 9lives
                  manish01 RE: 9lives Dec 22, 2008 12:20 PM

                  I am and possibly I have very bad luck ;)
                  I have never tried the Thai menu at any of these places but I will next time; I don't think I knew that some of these places had one.
                  I am quite sure they can make some amazing food I just think they might be "americanizing" there food too much. Its a shame b/c I know there is large contingent of people who really do want the real thing vs. a McDonald's version ...

                  1. re: manish01
                    9lives RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 12:36 PM

                    Like I said, I'm most familiar with Montien...which has an entirely different Thai menu..printed in Thai, with transliterations and English descriptions.

                    They'll also give you a 3 or 4 set collection of hotter spices but you have to ask. Someone who speaks Thai will correct me, but saying you'd like your food "pet pet" will get it hot.."pet ma"..hotter.

                    By asking for these, you'lll immediately distinguish yourself and not get the standard "Americanized" food.

                    A few of my favorites are moo pad med prik thai on..or pork sauteed with basil and peppercorns and a spicy squid salad.pork larb. Someone here raved about the fire pot soups and they're on my list to try.

                    I hope you enjoy it!

                    1. re: 9lives
                      manish01 RE: 9lives Dec 22, 2008 12:49 PM

                      Spicy is a step in the right direction but only part of it there is a sweet, sour and just all around freshness to Thai food which doesn't get captured.

                      BTW, do they use lots of birds eye chilies? I mean I can slather sriracha on just about anything and eat it ... except maybe desert

                      1. re: manish01
                        9lives RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 03:44 PM

                        They do use bird's eye chiles and many other fresh herbs and ingredients. BTW, If you like bird's eye chiles. they're very easy to grow and I had lots this summer.

                        As to srirachi on dessert, don't knock it til you try it. This was the work of 1 of the more creative CH's at the end of a Potluck Cafe dinner..:)


                        1. re: 9lives
                          manish01 RE: 9lives Dec 23, 2008 09:24 AM

                          I find just going to the Indian grocer and picking up a couple of handfuls ,for .25, and freezing them works great.

                          I have grown ,though, Habeneros and they have come out ok.

                          1. re: manish01
                            jylze RE: manish01 Aug 12, 2009 08:22 PM

                            fyi, bird's eye chilis are super easy to grow. i am terrible at growing stuff, and i managed to keep it alive and get a lot of peppers off it.

                  2. re: 9lives
                    barleywino RE: 9lives Dec 22, 2008 05:22 PM

                    i think the take-out place you're thinking of (which has a few seats btw) is Rod Dee, on Beacon st http://www.roddeethai.com/reviews.php i'm not a Thai expert but a friend of mine who spent a few yrs in Thailand quite likes it (I used to like their Indonesian fried rice, it's been a while tho)

                    1. re: barleywino
                      9lives RE: barleywino Dec 22, 2008 05:32 PM

                      yes, that's it.

                      I haven't been but it's generally well reviewed on the board.

                      1. re: barleywino
                        Nechushtan RE: barleywino Dec 23, 2008 07:27 AM

                        I live around the corner from Rod Dee and so I eat there quite often (its easier and cheaper than cooking, so when I don't have the time, which lately is often...). I find that I like it much more than Dok Bua in terms of its breadth of flavors. Rod Dee has spicier, sometimes even smokier, spicy dishes, and their "sweet" has more nuanced flavor. I also find their rice and rice noodles are more to my liking.

                        They also have one or two daily specials which is a great way of broadening your Thai food horizons.

                        I also enjoy Brown Sugar, though to really get the best there you have to order deep off what normal Americans would order, and saying "thank you" in Thai after ordering doesn't hurt. My only complaint is you pay for location, as the food isn't that much better than Rod Dee or similar.

                        One of my best friends growing up was Thai (he was born in Thailand, his younger sister was born in the States and they traveled back often as they had family in very well-to-do positions there) and I ate quite a lot of it, both in their kitchen and out to Thai "we don't speak english here" restaurants, so I've got a pretty good sense of what the food should basically taste like, regionality differences aside. Of course, this was in CA, where arguably the best Thai food in this country can be had. Now being a fan of their food and culture, I definitely lucked out growing up with that.

                        1. re: Nechushtan
                          jgg13 RE: Nechushtan Dec 23, 2008 07:51 AM

                          Speaking of Rod Dee, for those who have eaten at both locations, is there a (or much of a) noticeable difference between the two? I normally only find myself near the Fenway one, and haven't eaten at the other one. I'm just curious if the main Rod Dee is heads & tails better or if they're both about the same.

                          1. re: jgg13
                            Trumpetguy RE: jgg13 Dec 23, 2008 08:33 AM

                            There is a new Rod Dee , I think, across from the Publick House/Roadhouse in Brookline now?

                            I think the problem is restaurant owners fear the yankee palate here!?

                            1. re: Trumpetguy
                              Baiye RE: Trumpetguy Dec 24, 2008 01:27 PM

                              Just another vote for Rod Dee, here. We tried Dok Bua once, and it's okay, but we won't likely stray from Rod Dee again when in Brookline. Further out, we are also fond of Lanna Thai Diner and Green Papaya.

                              Having been subjected to a fair amount of overpriced, bland, glooey sweet "Thai" food in places that shall not be named, I can understand the OP's attitude. Don't give up!

                              Lanna Thai Diner
                              901 Main St, Woburn, MA 01801

                              Green Papaya
                              475 Winter St # 1, Waltham, MA

                      2. re: 9lives
                        Greygoose53 RE: 9lives Sep 18, 2009 05:41 AM

                        Montien has to be one The worst Thai restaurants in the Boston area. The food is consistently bland, overpriced and the service sucks worse than my Hoover. Pretty much what you expect from the Theatre District: made for tourists and out of town theatre folks. Take another 15 minutes and go to Copley Sq. Thai Basil, while not outstanding, is much better than Montien. Chili Duck has some terrific hot pots and dishes you wouldn't normally order.

                        1. re: Greygoose53
                          MC Slim JB RE: Greygoose53 Sep 18, 2009 05:46 AM

                          I don't find Montien completely awful if you order off the Thai specialties menu; ditto for its sister restaurant Chili Duck. Both fall squarely in the Americanized Thai camp; even the less cliched dishes lack the strong flavors of more authentic places like S&I, Dok Bua and Rod Dee.


                          1. re: Greygoose53
                            9lives RE: Greygoose53 Sep 18, 2009 06:22 AM

                            "worst in the area, bland? couldn't disagree more. Maybe you're ordering the wrong dishes or haven't seen the Thai menu.

                            Made for tourists and theater goers; yes but a large base of Thai customers. I don't consider Copley Place any less touristy than Chinatown/Theater District.

                            To each his own.

                  3. l
                    lasershow RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 11:46 AM

                    I like Sweet Chili's, on Mass. Ave. in Arlington Center.

                    1. c
                      cpingenot RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 12:23 PM

                      I agree there must be a better way to phrase this query, but I also agree with the OP's sentiment. I first had Thai food when I lived in Houston where there was a choice of 5 or 6 good Thai restaurants near where I lived (and you didn't have to decipher the Thai menu). Although I haven't searched out 'hound recommendations, I've tried a couple of the places in Somerville/ Cambridge and they've all been forgettable (literally, I can't remember the names- a place on Cambridge street east of Inman, a place in Harvard square, a place on Mass ave in Porter) - low quality ingredients imprecise balance of flavors and just kind of bland and blah.. The best Southeast asian food I've had in Boston was Elephant walk. not the same as Thai I know, and it's been uneven the last times I've gone there, but that was the kind of place we had everywhere in Houston- good ingredients, pleasant setting. I'd love to hear suggestions of good places, esp. in Cambridge/ Somerville. If anyone has good rec's for vietnamese I'm interested too!

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: cpingenot
                        manish01 RE: cpingenot Dec 22, 2008 12:44 PM

                        Pho Patuer in chinatown has great Pho and has some items labeled traditional that are pretty good.

                        1. re: manish01
                          9lives RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 12:50 PM

                          I like Pho Pasteur and Xinh Xinh..both in Chinatown.

                          1. re: 9lives
                            cpingenot RE: 9lives Dec 22, 2008 01:19 PM

                            Xihn Xihn is a favorite and I schlepp over there at lunch sometimes, esp in the summer when I'm craving Bun. Can't seem to find anything like that on the Cambridge side of the river unfortunately.

                            1. re: 9lives
                              jylze RE: 9lives Dec 22, 2008 09:07 PM

                              xinh xinh is good, but the best vietnamese food is in fields corner. i like pho 2000 a lot.

                              1. re: jylze
                                9lives RE: jylze Dec 23, 2008 05:35 AM

                                There's ahuge Vietnamese population in Dorchester. I like Pho 2000 too. Have you tried Anh Hong? They serve 7 courses of fish (they used very fresh red snapper)..and the less common 7 courses of beef. really a treat if you can round up some friends...a 14 course tasting..:)

                                1. re: 9lives
                                  jylze RE: 9lives Dec 23, 2008 08:41 AM

                                  pho 200 also does the 7 course beef. but no i have not done either 7 course option at anh hong, but i have had reegular dinner there. MAN, i would love to check out that 7 course fish - but my wife doesn't like fish...i'll need to be crafty about it.

                          2. re: cpingenot
                            Bob Dobalina RE: cpingenot Dec 23, 2008 04:08 AM

                            The place on Mass. Ave. in Porter is Sugar and Spice - it is what it is - americanized Thai and it does that quite well, actually. But not terribly authentic.

                            The Cambridge Street / Inman was probably Montien - as mentioned above, I think if you inform the staff that you're looking for the real deal, they can bring it. I've had some kickin' larb there.

                            I'm a Dok Bua fan, personally.

                            1. re: Bob Dobalina
                              autopi RE: Bob Dobalina Dec 23, 2008 04:26 AM

                              thanks for the tip BD--i've been confused about that place for awhile. specifically, i know it gets props on the board but the one time we went, it was really, really sub-par. gloppy, sweet, etcc.. but we didn't know to communicate our preference (well, my preference) for the non-americanized stuff. this explains a lot--i'll give it another try.

                              1. re: autopi
                                Parsnipity RE: autopi Dec 27, 2008 02:36 PM

                                Hmm. I've given Sugar & Spice several tries. I love the decor and want to like it, but I've had the same gloppy/sweet experience every time.

                                1. re: Parsnipity
                                  Bob Dobalina RE: Parsnipity Dec 28, 2008 08:47 AM

                                  I think Autopi and I are both referring to Montien? I was referring to Montien.
                                  I agree completely with your assessment of Sugar and Spice - not authentic, but not bad.

                              2. re: Bob Dobalina
                                cpingenot RE: Bob Dobalina Dec 23, 2008 08:06 AM

                                Actually I was driven by this post to look it up- the place on Cambridge Street was Spice and Rice- went with a group.
                                I think I'm going to try Montien, and maybe several others mentioned above. Thanks for the tips

                                1. re: cpingenot
                                  Bob Dobalina RE: cpingenot Dec 23, 2008 08:59 AM

                                  Ooh yeah - totally forgot about that place! You're so right.

                            2. c
                              cpingenot RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 12:28 PM

                              Oh, the worst Thai I've ever had is at Rock Sugar about two blocks from my office- got some AWFUL pad thai once- literally inedible with chunks of hard and sauceless noodles, and some very very bland massaman curry with stringy gristly chicken.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: cpingenot
                                9lives RE: cpingenot Dec 22, 2008 12:55 PM

                                Rock Sugar is a fast food place that precooks most of the dishes in the AM and let's them sit on a steam table.

                                I work in the area too..and the trick is to order something that they need to cook to order..not premade. It's not the best; but works if I have Thai fix..and not much time.

                                BTW for SE Asian, for the real thing, insted of going to Elephant Walk, go toFloating Rock in Revere..Chinatown style storefront with amazing food; or take a trip to Lowell which has a # of good SE Asian places

                              2. z
                                zizzpudding RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 12:38 PM

                                I don't have much to compare. There are a couple in my neighborhood that are not so good. but I really like Sugar and Spice in Porter Square and Montien's in Inman is pretty good too.

                                1. j
                                  Janeinma RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 02:31 PM

                                  I have eaten at Sripraphai and try to hit there every time we visit. You need to open your eyes.
                                  I have posted about this before, its not Sripraphai but there are some pretty neat things hiding on the Brown Sugar on Comm Ave's menu. The legendary watercress, and the raw shrimp to mention a couple. Any Thia restaurant will always cater to the unadventurous who demand mango chicken, pad thai, drunken noodles and curries.

                                  1. MC Slim JB RE: manish01 Dec 22, 2008 07:51 PM

                                    There's a lot of bad Thai food around, but it's not all dire. Give a spin to Dok Bua, S&I, and the Rod Dees and see if those don't ring some chimes for you. They're all pretty reasonable, too. Khao Sarn is more upscale and I think a bit Westernized these days, but has a number of dishes that are pretty good, and it's nice to have a more date-suitable place serving Thai with good cocktails and wines. For convenience (Theatre District and Back Bay locations), the Thai specialty menus at Mon Tien and Chili Duck (same owners) are also pretty good.

                                    (I think I've been to that place in DC. One dish I got was so hot I was crying, partly from joy.)

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: MC Slim JB
                                      jylze RE: MC Slim JB Dec 22, 2008 09:09 PM

                                      i've never eaten in at khao sarn, only take out - but for me this is by far the best thai food in boston. based on my visits there, i would say i could imagine the perception of westernization may be from its atmosphere in the restaurant. because the food is really good.

                                      1. re: jylze
                                        MC Slim JB RE: jylze Dec 23, 2008 04:39 AM

                                        I'm a loyal Khao Sarn customer, but I'd say they're not doing everything they could on the authenticity front. For instance, their fish version of haw moak is made with salmon when a more authentic choice that could be easily locally sourced would be a freshwater whitefish, say, catfish.

                                        But that's a nit, and one might argue that authenticity is overrated, anyway. I love that haw moak anyway (chicken version's nice, too), and some entrees -- like their steamed whole bass, coconut seafood, and kao soy curry noodles, all Northern dishes -- are fantastic.

                                      2. re: MC Slim JB
                                        suzysue2 RE: MC Slim JB Aug 12, 2009 08:26 AM

                                        I love Pad Thai Cafe on Boylston, next to Little Stevie's. Everything I have had there has been nothing short of exceptional and they are not afraid to add spice. It is also always full of Thai customers. Their Nam Sod with sticky rice is off the hook.

                                        1. re: suzysue2
                                          BostonZest RE: suzysue2 Aug 12, 2009 08:04 PM

                                          A Thai friend and another who lived in Thailand put me on to this. They told me to order Thai style. I'll never want americanized Pad Thai again. They also do some very good laab.

                                          1. re: BostonZest
                                            suzysue2 RE: BostonZest Aug 13, 2009 12:48 AM

                                            They also have a spicy flat rice noodle which is amazing (I am spacing the real name) as well as a Tom Yum Ga fried rice which is great (skip the soup of the same name).

                                      3. teaTomE RE: manish01 Dec 23, 2008 12:31 AM

                                        I've been living in Bangkok for half a year or so, and from what I can see online about Sripraphai it looks like the real deal - in Bangkok this would be a good medium to high priced restaurant.

                                        Can Boston compete?

                                        For medium/high class Thai, maybe not completely - but Brown Sugar Comm Ave does a good job if you know yourself what to order, and maybe ask for stuff off their Thai language menu. If you know the Thai names for a few good dishes you fancy, then just ask for them and they'll know what to cook. Their Tom Yum Goong is fantastic and spicy.

                                        For authentic everyday Thai, then I think you've got balls to come on here criticizing Boston's Thai food without having tried S&I Thai in Allston, which has had plenty of coverage both here and on other websites and papers. Its Thai language menu is streets ahead of the (already decent) competition for no-frills real Thai. I'm amazed that so many of the fantastic cheap street-side dishes I get in Bangkok are excellently recreated 12 timezone hours away in Boston, and I thoroughly recommend you bone-up on your knowledge of a few Thai phrases and a few Thai classics (like som tum) and head there.

                                        From the point of view of someone keen on Thai food, with a lot of experience of it - I say Boston has plenty of good Thai and that your OP is wrong. You've based your argument over going to a handful of places but there are well-over 100 Thai restaurants in Greater Boston, there is a big Thai community, even their King was born here!

                                        13 Replies
                                        1. re: teaTomE
                                          manish01 RE: teaTomE Dec 23, 2008 09:20 AM

                                          Let me understand this I must:
                                          1) learn thai
                                          2) scrupulously dissect a restaurant's menu
                                          3)hope that the staff think I am worthy enough to try the real thing

                                          Uh huh that to me is enough proof that thai food in Boston can't ,as you put it, compete.
                                          This is not some secret skull and bones society its a restaurant.

                                          1. re: manish01
                                            teaTomE RE: manish01 Dec 23, 2008 09:54 AM

                                            You make a good point that frustrates a lot of us. All I can say in defence of these restaurants is that the bread and butter in their industry are the huge percentage of customers come in asking for phad thai, tom yum and not much else. They set-up their menu and waitstaff in the expectation that you just want 'a usual' and that you would probably run a mile from anything authentically spicy or slightly outlandish that is the normal back home.

                                            There are plenty of thai dishes that thai's love to cook and serve, but people unprepared for them may be in for a shock that would make them unhappy with the restaurant. Dancing Shrimp is a Thai dish that is a good example (the shrimp are live) and real Som Tum (which is the true national dish of thailand) is usually at an acid/spice level that is painful and the fermented fish sauce on it is expected to cause toilet issues.

                                            I agree with you that getting the real deal good stuff shouldn't involve you needing to show them your credentials as a thai foodie, but it does help.

                                            1. re: manish01
                                              MC Slim JB RE: manish01 Dec 23, 2008 09:58 AM

                                              I don't really know any Thai beyond a word or two and this has not been a problem for me.

                                              As someone else alluded to here, I think there is a definite problem of many restaurants having given up on the majority of the local populace ever appreciating real Thai food and so have dumbed their menus down.

                                              But it doesn't take a whole lot of persistence to get the real thing at the places that serve it. It just helps to have a little Chowhound intrepidity, to not expect that by default they will instinctively know what you want and serve it to you.

                                              You could bemoan how much easier it was to get authentic food where you came from, and continue to complain about how all Thai food sucks in Boston, or you could do a tiny bit of work and get the real thing here.

                                              1. re: MC Slim JB
                                                jylze RE: MC Slim JB Dec 23, 2008 05:37 PM

                                                hear hear

                                              2. re: manish01
                                                9lives RE: manish01 Dec 23, 2008 06:04 PM

                                                I'm confused. Are you trying to win an intellectual argument or are you trying to get good food?

                                                If you want to win the argument, fine...I concede. There's no good Thai food in Boston..happy? Keep eating crappy Thai food..you win. It's the premise that you opened this topic with and clearly you're invested in being "right"...no matter the contradicting info that's been presented.

                                                Or you can take the advice of 30 or so experienced diners and do what little it takes to get the good stuff.

                                                Have it your way.

                                                1. re: manish01
                                                  Bob Dobalina RE: manish01 Dec 26, 2008 07:16 AM

                                                  Manish -

                                                  I remember a great Korean dive restaurant in Baltimore - it was open late, down in a basement, in a not-too-great area of town...
                                                  If we went with Korean friends, we would get all sorts of good things if we ordered in Korean, etc.
                                                  If we went with just an American contingent, the staff literally would tell us that we could not have / did not want certain items, which they believed to be too foreign for our tastes. One time, one server even just kept telling us they were out of this thing and that thing, until the only thing clearly he would let us order was either bulgoki or good ol' stone pot bi bim bap (even though clearly other tables of Korean-speakers were getting all sorts of things). We took it as a hoot, mostly because the bibimbap was awesome.

                                                  Point being, I think some places by default think that "ordinary" Americans will not want to order certain dishes and genuinely want to steer folks to what the majority like.

                                                  Another story - Was at Penang in Chinatown a few years back and there was some item on the menu - asked about it - garlicy tasting beans with pork - was strongly encouraged not to order, that I would not like it. It took some convincing but they brought it. You know what? They were completely right. The beans, whatever they were, were so strongly flavored that I really could not enjoy them. Way too funky for me. I had been warned, and I didn't listen. (Maybe some sort of fermeted soybeans or mung beans?)

                                                  Point being, these restaurant owners want you to enjoy the experience dining at their restaurant, so the "real deal" will take some convincing, so knowing a few words to convince them that you are no ordinary American - that by golly, you're a Chowhound! - is not so much a commentary on the restaurant's ability to produce authentic Thai or what-have-you but is more a commentary on the generally low tolerance of New England palates for things that are unfamiliar, spicy, etc.

                                                  (Like my friend Pat from Milton, MA who, in college, would put the "mild" taco sauce at Taco Bell on his soft taco supreme and have to fan his mouth because it burned so MUCH! lol...These are the people we, as Chowhounds, have to compete with!)

                                                  Anyway, I guess what I am trying to say is it's not the restaurant's / chef's fault at the majority of places recommended on this thread. Rather, if I may paraphrase Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

                                                  1. re: Bob Dobalina
                                                    Luther RE: Bob Dobalina Dec 27, 2008 05:02 AM

                                                    Those are sator ("stink") beans.


                                                    1. re: Luther
                                                      Bob Dobalina RE: Luther Dec 28, 2008 08:49 AM

                                                      Thanks, Luther. Those sure look like them!

                                                    2. re: Bob Dobalina
                                                      Parsnipity RE: Bob Dobalina Dec 27, 2008 02:49 PM

                                                      This is a really interesting discussion and it brings to mind something my dining companion and myself have been discussing a lot lately (mainly as we make the rounds of Asian restaurants we've learned about via this board with a post-it note of jotted down recommendations for dishes). Why doesn't someone start a restaurant consulting business to expand upon the menus of some of these places? I'm picturing an American-born son or daughter of a restaurant owner writing some capsule descriptions of dishes that would be more helpful than "excited chicken" or "pockmarked old woman" for the American diner. They could even have several tiers, like "American favorites" then "for the adventurous"... you get my drift. It would take, what, 2 days to overhaul a menu and could be a consulting service that could benefit both the kitchen and the customer. Maybe a little history about when the dish is served, or suggestions for "if you like Pad Thai, try Pad See Ew." Anyone want to go into business? I'll be the taster for your descriptions and evaluate your menu guidance free of charge!

                                                      1. re: Parsnipity
                                                        jylze RE: Parsnipity Dec 28, 2008 11:37 AM

                                                        the onus is on the customer to get what s/he wants out of a restaurant. if you can convince a server you really want this or that item, then congrats.

                                                        but no matter the preferences of you and your friends, the overwhelming majority of non-Asian customers order 1 of 6-7 items on their menu. a restaurant owner won't - and shouldn't - rehaul their menu to appeal to like 5% of their customer base.

                                                        1. re: jylze
                                                          Parsnipity RE: jylze Dec 28, 2008 02:01 PM

                                                          No, no- that's not what I mean at all. I mean literally overhaul the paper menu representing the dishes available so that those of us who want to venture outside the dishes that most people are more familiar with can have help to do so. I'm seeing this as a way to nudge diners into appreciating the really great, authentic food on the menu that might get overlooked because of lack of a good description or lack of familiarity.

                                                          Also, I think saying that the onus is on the customer is short-sighted. The restaurant is the party that stands to lose money or go out of business. If the owner can take an easy step to give customers who are looking for help an authentic dining experience, they are more likely to make repeat customers of those people and I see no reason not to do so.

                                                          1. re: Parsnipity
                                                            The Chowhound Team RE: Parsnipity Dec 28, 2008 02:19 PM

                                                            Howdy hounds, sorry to interrupt the chow-talk, but since this sub-thread is digressing from the topic of Boston-specific Thai food, to general issues including menu organisations and hypothetical ways for restaurants to improve their customer service, as well as the responsibilities of the customer in seeking out authentic dishes, we request that this aspects of the discussions continue on the Not About Food board. http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/29

                                                            Feel free to start a thread there. You may post a pointer here with a link to that new thread if you wish. Many thanks for helping us keep the boards focused on the chow. Happy New Year!

                                                  2. re: teaTomE
                                                    StriperGuy RE: teaTomE Dec 27, 2008 07:12 AM

                                                    S&I is great too, and it ain't that tricky to get some authentic stuff there.

                                                  3. k
                                                    katzzz RE: manish01 Dec 23, 2008 04:51 AM

                                                    I couldn't disagree more with your assessment. IMHO, Thai food is the most reliable "ethnic'' cuisine in Boston (in fact, in my experience it's the most reliable in the U.S.). Even the weakest Thai restaurants are pretty good. If you spent years avoiding Thai food, manish01, I think the problem is that you just don't like it.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: katzzz
                                                      Prav RE: katzzz Dec 23, 2008 07:10 AM

                                                      Agree wholeheartedly with katzzz and teaTomE. You ought to give Dok Bua, S&I and Brown Sug. a try. Let us know what you think!

                                                      1. re: katzzz
                                                        manish01 RE: katzzz Dec 23, 2008 09:22 AM

                                                        Like I said until I went to DC (Thai Square) and then in NYC (Sripraphai) I never had good Thai food.

                                                      2. n
                                                        nightsky RE: manish01 Dec 23, 2008 05:52 PM

                                                        I love Dok Bua and Rod Dee for a quick fix, and Brown Sugar for a sit-down meal with friends. Not sure why but the Comm Ave Brown Sugar and the Rod Dee on Beacon always seem to be slightly better than their Fenway counterparts. Rod Dee seems to depend more on the individual cook. My litmus test is pad kee mao. It's always good there, but sometimes it's just amazing, when the cook makes it very spicy and lets it cook right to up the edge of burning, so it's slightly smoky.

                                                        The dishes I've had at Smile Thai Noodle (in the Super 88 food court) have also been very good. Portions seem slightly smaller than the other places, but the prices are also a bit lower.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: nightsky
                                                          hiddenboston RE: nightsky Dec 23, 2008 07:42 PM

                                                          Heh, it's a good thing you like the Brown Sugar location on Comm. Ave. better, as that will be the only one remaining in a couple of weeks.

                                                        2. anitab RE: manish01 Dec 26, 2008 03:53 AM

                                                          I'm surprised that no one has mentioned House of Siam on Columbus Ave in the South End. I have always had great food there and the staff is very friendly - they will definitely spice up the food for you if you ask. Of course, there are a couple of things on the menu I would not recommend (steamed dumplings for one) but there are many, many more I would (Noodle Khee Mao).

                                                          BTW - you do not have to speak Thai (I don't), staff are friendly, and (I think) scouring the menu at a restaurant, especially an ethnic one, is part of the fun. You always find something new to try.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: anitab
                                                            hiddenboston RE: anitab Dec 26, 2008 06:47 AM

                                                            I like House of Siam, but I'm not sure I'm in the majority on this one. It's a bit Americanized, but I still think it's good. By the way, they just opened their second location on Tremont Street where Thai Village used to be.

                                                          2. l
                                                            lossless RE: manish01 Dec 26, 2008 08:23 PM

                                                            another vote for rod dee. i was first taken there by a thai grad student / labmate who had come from chiang mai in northern thailand, and he said that some of the items on the menu were like the food he would eat back home. that was good enough for me.

                                                            1. p
                                                              Posenose RE: manish01 Dec 28, 2008 11:01 AM

                                                              Has anyone been to Thai Thai Kitchen in Newton Center? I've driven by and am intrigued...seen a few good reviews in the paper as well but am curious what Chowhounders think....

                                                              1. r
                                                                River19 RE: manish01 Dec 29, 2008 06:57 AM

                                                                We always had good food from Bangkok Café in Foxboro…….crazy little strip mall gem.

                                                                Ate there over the weekend, been going there for just over 10 years. After working in Boston it is equal to many of the Thai places in the city. We sued to hit King & I and Siam Café in the MGH area back in the day and they were alright (K&I was much better overall).

                                                                The Bankok Café menu is similar to most Thai places with the typical Americanized fare but they do it well and I have always tended to try the strangest things they have and I am always pleased, I live for their Seafood Madness which I believe is their hottest item on the menu…..very very good.

                                                                1. z
                                                                  Zut RE: manish01 Dec 29, 2008 08:37 AM

                                                                  A point which I'm surprised no one has yet made is that Thai food, per my understanding, came relatively late to the Boston area. I grew up here in the '80s and '90s and do not recall seeing a Thai place until the early '90s. I do not claim to be all-knowing in terms of restaurant development here - I easily could have just been overlooking (or too young to observe or eat at) numerous other Thai places. But when I moved to Chicago in 1997, I was duly surprised to see that city was filled with Thai places - yet had (relatively) few Chinese places. It seems to me that Boston in the mid-90s was a place that had innumerable takeout Chinese places, some quality Chinese places, and a few scattered Japanese and Thai places. Whereas Chicago (and other cities in the midwest and west?) had relatively few takeout Chinese places, but innumerable Thai places.

                                                                  Anyone else agree with this assessment? Or does this really speak to the greater issue of growth of cuisine in Boston in general?

                                                                  11 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Zut
                                                                    teaTomE RE: Zut Dec 29, 2008 08:52 AM

                                                                    I think I recall that Bangkok City Restaurant on Mass Ave near Symphony claims in their window to be the oldest Thai in Greater Boston. Maybe 20 years or so, I'm not sure.

                                                                    Has anyone ever eaten there? Their website makes some nice claims about how authentic their cooking is compared to bad over-sugared American Thai.

                                                                    Regarding your point: it's no secret that many of the japanese/sushi places in Boston are korean- or chinese-run. Perhaps it is the same for a handful of Thai restaurants, whether at the staff level or just the managers/owners.

                                                                    1. re: teaTomE
                                                                      junior coyote RE: teaTomE Dec 29, 2008 05:59 PM

                                                                      I remember there being a thai restaurant there (I remember it was "Bankok something..") in 84 or 85 when I lived on the Fenway. Haven't been there since though.

                                                                      1. re: junior coyote
                                                                        Aromatherapy RE: junior coyote Dec 30, 2008 03:53 AM

                                                                        Yes, on Mass Ave near Symphony. Just Bangkok, or maybe Cafe? Early 80s at least. I have their pad thai recipe someplace--that being way exotic at the time.

                                                                      2. re: teaTomE
                                                                        Rubee RE: teaTomE Dec 29, 2008 08:17 PM

                                                                        It's been 7-8 years, but we used to love the authentic Thai menu they had at Bangkok City. You had to ask for the "Thai menu" or "other menu", but it was translated and featured a lot of Northern and Central Thai dishes. It was the first time in Boston I had laab or yam woon sen, and those are still some of my favorite Thai dishes. They closed for renovations at one point, and we never made it back.

                                                                        1. re: teaTomE
                                                                          katzzz RE: teaTomE Dec 30, 2008 05:38 AM

                                                                          When I moved to Boston in 1979 there was one Thai restaurant: Bangkok something or other (I don't think it was City -- Cuisine, perhaps?) located near Symphony Hall, but closer to Berklee Performance Center -- right across the street and a few stores up in the direction of Symphony. It was a superb restaurant for many years, but with the opening of more Thai restaurants (including one yards away on the same block, another closer to Symphony on Westland) it started slipping in quality. Is it still there? It's slipped so far out of my rotation that I haven't even thought to look for it in years. But its claim to be the first Thai in Boston is true as far as I know. Personally, I find Thai restaurants in general to be reliably delicious. With lime, red pepper, cilantro, lemongrass and the like as prime ingredients, you can't go very wrong! If you seek authentic, Montien on Stuart Street, one of my faves, has a great Thai menu (with English translation). They won't hand it to you automatically. Just ask.

                                                                        2. re: Zut
                                                                          Allstonian RE: Zut Dec 29, 2008 09:11 AM

                                                                          I think you probably are overlooking some Thai places in the 80s. For example, I know for a fact that King & I on Charles Street goes back to the mid-80s, because I worked for a few months for a company that had its holiday dinner there in probably December 1985. I don't believe they were the only Thai restaurant in town at that time, though they were one of few.

                                                                          I've eaten at Bangkok City and enjoyed it more than many other Thai meals I've had, but I can't vouch for "authenticity."

                                                                          1. re: Allstonian
                                                                            CookieLee RE: Allstonian Aug 11, 2009 08:51 AM

                                                                            Siam Cuisine on Comm Ave, next to the Paradise (?) was there in the mid 80's, until almost 2000, I think. That is where I first had Thai food. When the littlest cookie was a toddler, he started eating Thai, much to the delight of the owner and staff! We are regulars at Dok Bua, and once they knew us, they offered to bump up the spice for us. Now, they just do it. There is no shame in the restaurant playing to the lowest common denominator. If you are an afficiando of the cuisine, tell the server, and they will be more than happy to give you the food the way it's eaten in the "old country".

                                                                          2. re: Zut
                                                                            Taralli RE: Zut Dec 29, 2008 09:39 AM

                                                                            House of Siam goes way, way back to its original location in Park Square - might even have been one of the 1st Thai restos in the area. Can anyone confirm est?

                                                                            1. re: Taralli
                                                                              Stride RE: Taralli Dec 29, 2008 04:52 PM

                                                                              I think you're right about that Park Square location (but I thought it was Star of Siam, not House). I definitely ate there in the 80s and I believe it was my first experience with Thai food. I thought at the time it was the only Thai restaurant in town, but couldn't swear to that.

                                                                              1. re: Stride
                                                                                galleygirl RE: Stride Dec 29, 2008 05:26 PM

                                                                                It WAS Star of Siam, I had my first Thai food there, as well. I know I ate there when I worked in-house at an ad agency, prior to 1986, so propably 1984 0r 85.....

                                                                                1. re: galleygirl
                                                                                  Taralli RE: galleygirl Dec 30, 2008 04:49 AM

                                                                                  Yes, Star of Siam, but I think those folks moved to the existing SE location of HOS. I also had my 1st Thai food there.

                                                                          3. b
                                                                            BostonCharles RE: manish01 Jan 6, 2009 11:29 PM

                                                                            Boston has a lot of bad "any" food - Boston palates don't exactly demand excellence. Its getting better, granted, but this is still a city that thinks adding pepper is dangerously flavorful, and would rather have pretty walls than good food.

                                                                            That said, though I won't say I've been wowed by anything in Boston, I've had a lot of good food at Dok Bua. And even some very good meals at house of siam in the south end (1/3 or so, the rest americanized)

                                                                            I've found it helps if you ask for the food as it would be made for thais, not Bostonians. My habit in most "ethnic" restaurants. I find it improves the food withour requiring knowledge of the language. (Though as an aside, when I go to chinatown with chinese speakers, the food really IS better)

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: BostonCharles
                                                                              hiddenboston RE: BostonCharles Jan 7, 2009 06:00 AM

                                                                              Wow, I'm not so sure about your first statement there, BostonCharles. Bostonians don't demand excellence? What makes you say this? I think there are a lot of serious foodies in this city, and there are a lot of restaurants that serve good food. What cities are you comparing Boston to?

                                                                            2. Karl S RE: manish01 Jan 7, 2009 09:55 AM

                                                                              The way this thread stands now, the OP has basically whined but seems more vested in having his undetailed point of view validated rather than truly seeking more information. That's a formula for frustration.

                                                                              1. u
                                                                                uman RE: manish01 Aug 12, 2009 04:40 PM

                                                                                I really love Sweet Ginger in Union Square, Somerville. I go there on Thursdays before braving the crowds at Market Basket. The only downside is that there is no alcohol.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: uman
                                                                                  TomH RE: uman Sep 4, 2009 06:53 AM

                                                                                  Second Sweet Ginger. My wife and I routinely get take-out from there as it is fairly close to our house. Always fresh and good portions. They also listen when you ask for "extra spicy" which is always a plus for me!

                                                                                2. MC Slim JB RE: manish01 Aug 12, 2009 10:05 PM

                                                                                  I had a great meal at S&I Thai in Allston the other day. As usual, every other customer in the dining room was speaking Thai. Cheap, fresh, authentic (to the extent that an only occasional traveler to Thailand can tell), and very tasty. The menu items pictured on the left-hand wall (as you walk into the restaurant) have been described to me as the more traditional (read: authentic) Thai dishes. If you're less than satisfied by the quality of Thai food in Boston, I encourage you to give this place a shot.


                                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB
                                                                                    Stellar D RE: MC Slim JB Aug 13, 2009 05:44 AM

                                                                                    I'm Thai, but raised in America.

                                                                                    I think that there are a couple of points to think about when recommending a restaurant:

                                                                                    1. Find out if the people who own and who are cooking your food are Thai. Many people who own Thai restaurants are Chinese or Korean. In my experience, the food has been better when cooked/owned by someone from the country of origin.

                                                                                    2. Just like we all have preferences to the soap we use, the kind of sheets we sleep on and the car we drive, there are certain tastes that we like, different from one another. Which means, some folks want things more sweet ( I have a cousin in Thailand who cooks a sweetened fried rice) to a dish more spicey and sour. But this can be the same dish and depend on the cook that day!

                                                                                    3. Thai food should NOT be expensive. The outrageous prices that I have seen charged by some restaurants is a shame. The costs of the ingrediants in most dishes are a pittance.... people in Thailand do not pay that amount for food!

                                                                                    4. Look for restaurants that use Asian/Thai VEGETABLES in their food. It imparts a totally different dish when made that way, versus with American vegetables. And for you naysayers... there are plenty of people growing Asian produce in the area or that can be delivered.

                                                                                    1. re: Stellar D
                                                                                      StriperGuy RE: Stellar D Aug 13, 2009 06:36 AM

                                                                                      Cool, If you live in Boston you should give S&I or Dok Bua a whirl. Your opinion would be appreciated.

                                                                                      1. re: Stellar D
                                                                                        digga RE: Stellar D Sep 3, 2009 05:41 PM

                                                                                        I respectfully disagree with point 3..."Thai food should NOT be expensive." I think there is a stigma in this country about spending more than $10 for an entree in "ethnic" restaurants (and expecting bad service and/or atmosphere). Why shouldn't a fantastic Thai/Mexican/Chinese/Indian/Korean, etc...restaurant have the right to charge standard prices while provide equally good service, decent wine list? I like my Thai food on dishes, and not out of styrofoam containers, as most people seem to do take-out by default.

                                                                                        I like expecting the quality of food to be high with commensurate prices, just as I would expect from any restaurant.

                                                                                        As a sidenote, I've yet to try Ronnarong...I've been disappointed at most places, except, most recently, Pok Pok in Portland OR.

                                                                                        1. re: digga
                                                                                          MC Slim JB RE: digga Sep 3, 2009 06:39 PM

                                                                                          I'm with you: an upscale Thai place ought to fly, and I'd love to see one (as well as upscale versions of many other regional cuisines that are stereotyped as being "downmarket"), but there is clearly a mental barrier there for a lot of American diners.


                                                                                          1. re: digga
                                                                                            jylze RE: digga Sep 3, 2009 07:02 PM

                                                                                            i absolutely agree. i work at my brother-in-law's thai restaurant (not in boston) and people will walk out if we tell them there's a 10 minute wait. but people wait at bugaboo creek and texas roadhouse for more than an hour sometimes.

                                                                                            1. re: jylze
                                                                                              Parsnipity RE: jylze Sep 3, 2009 07:30 PM

                                                                                              Or in line for a Sonic in an idling car for 2 hours...

                                                                                              In order for upscale Thai to fly, the menu descriptions have to convey the worth and quality of the ingredients better than most $10 take out joints do. At least that's my opinion- it's partly a question of semantics.

                                                                                              1. re: Parsnipity
                                                                                                MC Slim JB RE: Parsnipity Sep 3, 2009 08:06 PM

                                                                                                It works in New York in at least two ways I've experienced: French-fusion it up in a very elegant setting with a big celeb chef ostensibly at the helm (Vong); do more traditional food in a super-hip, romantically-lit boutique-hotel setting with beautiful servers, aiming to attract a more nightlife-oriented crowd (Kittichai). Both are very good, with average check sizes more like $70-90 pp. Granted, it's Manhattan, so many, many factors that make them successful are different, not really applicable to the much smaller, comparatively tight-fisted, arguably more provincial Boston market, but it is not impossible.


                                                                                      2. NiveaF RE: manish01 Sep 3, 2009 12:18 PM

                                                                                        Can I make a recommendation for Ronnarong Thai in Union Square? I moved here from NYC and had eaten at Sripaphai many times (the best), but I'd argue this place comes damn close to it!!! Really wipe your brow exceptional Thai.

                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: NiveaF
                                                                                          MC Slim JB RE: NiveaF Sep 3, 2009 12:21 PM

                                                                                          I'm a fan of Ronnarong, and particularly like the small plates idea, but I don't put its flavors in the same league as the places I prefer: S&I, Dok Bua, Rod Dee. They're still pulling punches there, except maybe on chilies.


                                                                                          1. re: MC Slim JB
                                                                                            StriperGuy RE: MC Slim JB Sep 3, 2009 12:59 PM

                                                                                            I agree, not even close to Dok Bue and S&I.

                                                                                          2. re: NiveaF
                                                                                            elbev RE: NiveaF Sep 3, 2009 01:23 PM

                                                                                            Is this the place that moved into the Great Thai Chef spot and advertises Thai tapas?

                                                                                            1. re: elbev
                                                                                              chickendhansak RE: elbev Sep 3, 2009 01:58 PM

                                                                                              That's the one, but I think I read somewhere on here that is just a rebranding/remodelling and not new ownership.

                                                                                              1. re: chickendhansak
                                                                                                MC Slim JB RE: chickendhansak Sep 3, 2009 05:03 PM

                                                                                                That is correct. I can't decide if the new name (which is the chef/owner's surname) is more modest than the old one. A little, I think.


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