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Apr 24, 2009 02:51 PM

Authentic Thai food in downtown Toronto?

I moved to Toronto in July and found that the city does Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese food well, but I have been consistently disappointed by the Thai food I have tried, despite its seeming popularity among Torontonians. From reading this board, I've tried Bua Thai, Real Thailand, Thai Basil, Flip Toss N' Thai, and Thai Angels, none of which I would eat at again. The pad thai always seems to be too sweet and intensely red, even in places which claim that they don't use ketchup. In general, I expect pad thai to be a brownish color and a good mix of salty, sour, sweet, and spicy flavors. The curries and soups I've tried are OK, but nothing I would go to a restaurant to eat.

My parents are from Thailand and I've been there several times, so I grew up eating Thai food. But I have eaten at good Thai restaurants outside of Thailand - for example, Cambodiana in Kingston, ON (despite the name, I remember them serving mainly Thai food). Is there any place in Toronto that compares?

In general, it's difficult to say what makes Thai food here seem so inauthentic, although I have a feeling it suffers from "early adopter" syndrome, much like Chinese food in many N. American cities. It's generally too sweet, has Western vegetables like broccoli or carrots added, etc.

I don't have a car, so I would appreciate recommendations for places reachable by the TTC and walking, or places that deliver to the Bloor/Spadina area. Thanks!

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  1. sukhothai - only open friday & saturday

    mengrai thai - more upscale = more $.

    40 Replies
    1. re: aser

      Thanks for the recommendations, aser.

      I saw a Thai restaurant the other day on the west side of Spadina, a bit south of Dundas, close to Pho 88, though I can't remember the name. It was a fairly large building and the sign had Chinese characters in it. I originally thought it was a Chinese restaurant but I had a look at the menu in the window and they were serving Thai food. Anyone been?

      1. re: pravit

        I think you're referring to Laksa. The top floor is Xe Lua, an average Vietnamese resto that used to have the ground floor. They renovated both spaces with Laksa opening in the ground floor last year. If you're looking for authentic Thai, you won't find it here unfortunately. It's not very good and overpriced.

        There has been some recent posts about the imminent re-opening of Linda at the new Shops at Don Mills. Linda is the more upscale sister restaurant of the venerable Salad King, an inexpensive Thai restaurant that's steps away from Ryerson University. Both are definitely worth a try for 2 takes on Thai: cheap and cheerful to modern slightly upscale.

        1. re: num nums

          I doubt that Salad King is going to taste any more authentic to the OP than the places they have already tried. I've had more authentic food at Thai Angels, but not everything is a hit there (the lunch specials I've had have been pretty lame). I think Salad King is a classic case of the aforementioned "early adopter syndrome."

      2. re: aser

        Second the mengrai thai recommendation. The original style pad thai is the best I've had in the city so far.

        1. re: aser

          Thanks for the recommendation too! We went to Sukho Thai tonight. Had the sukhothai pad thai, the coconut chicken soup, red curry, and spring rolls. Enjoyed everything very much and my favourite was the coconut soup~ I would recommend calling in and ordering before you go, it's more of a takeout location and it takes a while if it's busy.

          1. re: hippotatomus

            Glad you enjoyed it! I was there as well tonight hmmm..... It seemed to be hoppin' busy tonight here's hoping they can keep up with the increased volume. Had the tom yum with shrimp spicy, sour, savoury-a parade of flavours. Took some guts to stray away from my usual pad thai!

          2. re: aser

            Visited Mengrai for the first time last week and had the lychee curry, very unique and delicious!

            1. re: Sof

              their apps were actually excellent. their original pad thai was also excellent.
              many items on the menu that i wanted to try...
              my complaint is Mengrai's a little pricey , so its an occasional visit type of restaurant.
              but it is indeed excellent.

              by the way, am I the only one who likes Satay on the Road? their Oodles of Noodles is really good.

              1. re: atomeyes

                Haven't had that dish, but I used to enjoy going there. Till one day I realized their pad thai could pass as dessert it was so sweet. What other dishes do you recommend?

            2. re: aser

              Wow, I'm really hyped up about Sukho Thai now. It's a bit far, but I guess one could reach it by taking the subway to Dundas and then riding the streetcar east to Parliament.

              1. re: pravit

                It's worth taking any combination of bus, subway, taxi, bike, foot or zipcar to get to Sukhothai. Or, if you ask nicely, they may deliver to you - though you're a bit far for them. It is exactly the kind of Thai resto this city has been missing forever and now has - authentic, superb food with many ingredients sourced from Thailand. The owners are gracious, earnest, lovely people. I've been or ordered in 7 or 8 times now, almost every week-end since my first visit, and never had anything less than a delicious experience.

                See more on this thread:

                1. re: peppermint pate

                  I just ordered in from Sukhothai tonight and I have to say it was the best Thai food I've had in Toronto. They delivered all the way out to Bloor/Spadina, too! This time, I tried pad thai, green curry chicken, and tom kha gai. The pad thai tasted like it was cooked with a tamarind-based sauce and thankfully not red at all. I also appreciated that the pad thai noodles were not soggy and overcooked as they are in most places. The green curry chicken and tom kha gai were really nice and had a good coconut creaminess. One thing I noticed was that the pad thai did not have any cilantro or crushed peanut as I am used to, but I guess you could specify this when ordering. Everything was spicy enough (when I ordered, he asked if I wanted "Canadian spicy" or "Thai spicy").

                  Thanks for the recommendations! I will be eating Sukhothai again when I feel like having Thai food.

                  1. re: pravit

                    i don't recall any cilantro in my pad thai though they gave me a little container of crushed peanuts when i sat in. i suspect they just may have been busy and forgot as when we sort of launched into a conversation they forgot to hand over a drink to my dining companion which they said they would usually do right after putting in the order.

                    i found them a little old smelling though... which to be honest is almost expected for me in most thai restos so i'll accept it but chose not to add it yesterday just to get the most basic experience.

                  2. re: peppermint pate

                    I've had a bit of thai, but would like to have something authentic, I know there is a spicy element to it, but are there yummy options and dishes for non-spicy food people too?

                    1. re: BamiaWruz

                      Sure. There are loads of fairly unspicy / no chili pepper in sight dishes in Thai cuisine, although that will limit your choices significantly. Pad see ew, for example, is a rice noodle dish with no chilies. There are loads of others, too: spring rolls, fried rice (Thai fried rice is very good and nothing like the Canadian-Chinese bland stuff), many stir fries, etc.

                      Go to Mengrai and tell the server (or Alan, if you can get him) what you generally like, and they'll set you up nicely.

                      1. re: vorpal

                        Ditto for Sukhothai. Vorpal, when are you going to make it back to the city to try Sukhothai?

                        1. re: peppermint pate

                          Probably not for at least another couple months, but when I do, rest assured that I will definitely make a point of hitting up Sukhothai! Right now I'm being pleasantly spoiled by the delightful Aiyara Thai restaurant here in Ottawa!

                          1. re: vorpal

                            oh where is aiyara thai? when i left ottawa, nokham thai? was getting a lot of good press....

                            1. re: deabot

                              Aiyara is on Walkley Street, just a bit east of Bank. A friend took me there and while I was doubtful, I was pleasantly surprised. Best off, it's Thai owned and the staff is well-versed in the Thai art of vegetable carving: each dish is adorned with the most gorgeous carving (elephants, flowers, and all manner of things).

                              I haven't yet been to Nokham, but have too heard good things about it. It's just a little out of the way for me, and due to the excellent availability of Thai ingredients here, I've gotten back to mostly cooking my own Thai food.

                      2. re: BamiaWruz

                        i know that they asked what level of spiciness i wanted for the pad thai though can't say for the rest of the menu.... you should be able to request mild or not spicy at all.

                        i'm not great with spice though i'll sweat through it if i have to but the medium was a bit too kicky for me and i think the mild would give a nice light heat without much burn. at least specifically at sukho thai.

                  3. re: aser

                    gotta thank you (aser), jonasbrand and deabot for turning me onto sukho thai.

                    i've been meaning to go but the hours make it a bit constricting. on a jaunt around the city i decided today was the day and went in but only had the capacity to eat one dish, pad thai. it was fantastic. the chilis they use for heat really offer a good flavourful spiciness that lingers for a while. i got medium heat which was a bit much for me and ended up masking the nice subtle tang of the tamardind in the pad thai though you would still taste it right at the start. my favourite part was the good noodles with a slight chew. they didn't stick together in starchy clumps and really had a wonderful texture.

                    they gave us a few shrimp chips to start with a tamarind shrimp paste spread/dip that had a great pungency and saltiness. these were also the better quality shrimp chips which i really appreciated.

                    before we left they hustled into the back to get us samplers of a dessert, coconut tapioco with slices of coconut. the tapioca was an awesome bouncy texture that i almost never get anymore and coconut milk is always yummy.

                    i will definitely be back for more and it looks like they're getting some good press! the best part.... they'll be open during the week in may or so! the wife has graduated and now that they've got the nursing thing to fall back on, they can focus on sukho thai. they're a great little shop with a lot of passion for what they do (they had a little resto back in thailand and cut back on their hours because they couldn't find a chef they trusted to take the helm) and really sweet sweet people.

                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                      Yeahh I'm glad you got to try it! I must have just missed you-I was in around 1 for the pad thai it's my usual standby though I am trying to move onto to some of their other dishes. The tapioca is nice refreshment too afterwards isn't it. It's a terrific place and the owners are really nice-the photos they have on the wall have inspired me to travel to Thailand!

                      1. re: deabot

                        to be honest i half expected that i would see you there for some reason but i popped in at about 3pm.

                        i'm keen to get their panang and massaman... they've become my run away favourites for thai in general but for some reason i always use pad thai as my go to for the first time.

                      2. re: pinstripeprincess

                        one of the reasons their food is so delicious is that Nuit is super focused on using only the best and most authentic ingredients. happy you got a chance to try it pinstripe! the tom yum kung soup is awesome as is the beef penang... can't wait till they are open all week and not just Friday and Saturday :D

                        274 Parliament St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                      3. re: aser

                        I'm so pleased that Sukho Thai is catching on. I posted about them when they first opened. They're such nice people, and while not an expert on Thai food, I thought it first rate.

                        1. re: pastina

                          I love Sukho Thai, both the food & the owners. I recently recommended them to my office for a catered lunch. We have tried a number of Thai restaurants over the last few years, and everyone agreed Sukho Thai's lunch was the best we've had so far.

                          Not sure what happened with the reduced hours, but hopefully they get back to being more available soon.

                          1. re: Orange

                            I'll be surprised if that happens, though I hope so. The last time I was at Sukho Thai, the chef was going to nursing school. They own the building and live upstairs, so they may stay around rather than closing, though.

                            If I understand correctly, they couldn't handle the business and she was not able to find cooks who met her standards, but there are also some essential restaurant management issues that she either couldn't master or else refused to.

                            When I first went there, it was awesome, but everything - absolutely everything - was made a la minute. She would chop vegetables, pound seasoning pastes, etc while you waited.

                            This produced fabulous food, but they were always behind and the waits could stretch to hours. Whether this was about fear of waste (reasonable in such a marginal operation) or about her standard of cuisine, it wasn't at all practical.

                            If they expand their operation again, they will need to come to terms with things such as prep and management. It didn't seem that other family members could cook. I can't imagine her running this place while working as a nurse.

                            1. re: embee

                              Embee, my understanding is that she had to finish her degree before her eligibility would expire. She would've had to start at the beginning of the program again if she let it expire. The nursing is a fallback option, but she wanted to finish it so as to not waste her time, effort and obviously tuition.

                              They've increased their efficiency already by changing their prep. All the curries are prepared in advance. Plus the menu has been streamlined.

                              1. re: aser

                                I know, but this also means the finesse which made Sukho Thai so extraordinary isn't there any more. It's essentially Thai fast food and street food. I hope she can find a middle ground. She is really an outstanding cook.

                                1. re: embee

                                  The curries being made in advance makes total sense to me, the flavours will blend and intensify the longer it sits.

                                  I don't think I want things to go back to the way they were before, it just wasn't practical or smart at all. They were over-extending themselves by doing everything a la minute. Mise en plas is pretty standard with any restaurant, so I don't see how preparing in advance will be a compromise to their quality. A great deal of "Asian" dishes require extensive prepping time, but the actual cooking is very brief. Also, there can still be a lot of finesse in fast/street food, that's actually the beauty of "Asian" food to me.

                                  My opinion is that they should be better equipped to handle the crowds of a full time operation this second time around. They've learned from their mistakes.

                                2. re: aser

                                  Yes, that's correct - and Nuit has now finished her nursing equivalency tests. They've brought some extra help in the kitchen and wait times are way down. I've been going for months now and I've noticed no drop in the spectacular quality or flavours. I had also been told that they were raming up to full-time shortly, as pinstripe has said.

                                  And Nuit IS both an outstanding and passionate cook - I don't think she'll step back from her primary role unless and until she knows there are equally capable hands to fill her shoes (er, hands, shoes, I'm hungry - you know what I mean).

                                  ps - Sukhothai is one word, like the name of the temple city in Thailand!!

                                3. re: embee

                                  i guess i'm not getting read anymore, but the news straight from them was that they were aiming to open during the week in mid-may though it may take a little longer to get to that point.

                                  i never went before last week and so i'm not sure how it compares from then to now, but i will say it took all of 15 minutes to get my dish out so they have definitely sped up their prep process wether that be truly to their detriment or benefit.

                                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                    It's just as good now as it was when they operated full-time, that's just my opinion though. Glad you liked it, they would make my #1 list of best new restaurants in 08.

                                    1. re: aser

                                      It's not so much about lower quality as about the loss of complex dishes from their menu. I haven't been there in quite a few months, but the menu had been pared down to very few items on my last visit, all of them very cheap and most of them able to sit around for hours.

                                      The time on the steam table was good for a beef dish I ordered, but not for the chicken (which had dried out). Better than losing them entirely, of course, but not the same as being able to call and ask for something special.

                                      1. re: embee

                                        I"ll use the khao soi as an example, it was removed from the menu but it's still available if asked. Just call her and ask for the dishes from the former menu, she will still gladly make it for you. Actually, she will pretty much make any thai dish you want if you give her advanced warning. She seems genuinely happy that someone would request more obscure dishes, she's just very proud of her people's cuisine, and accommodating at the same time.

                                        I still have the old takeout menu on hand, but they've talked about printing a new one up once they solidify their revised menu.

                                        1. re: aser

                                          Thanks for that info!

                                          I did ask when I first encountered the new menu, but the answer at that time was "no" (with an explanation).

                                          1. re: aser

                                            Will they make nut-free Thai, so I won't die?

                                            1. re: tjr

                                              I'm sure she will agree, the problem you face is cross-contamination. They operate in a small kitchen, so it all depends on your level of allergy.

                                              1. re: aser

                                                Super-deadly, so I guess it's probably out of the question.

                              2. re: aser

                                Sukhothai is now open Monday to Saturday.

                                274 Parliament St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                              3. Thai Angels has regular Pad Thai and Thai Pad Thai, which is brownish and has pickled radish in them. But some of the other dishes there I'm not too found of. E.g. the duck curry seems like it's roast duck from Chinatown dropped into the curry sauce.

                                1. Thai Chef Cuisine on Roncesvales.

                                  Tango - part owner and chef - is from Bangkok and has a lot of authentic Thai dishes on his menu. Some of which, I question not because they aren't absolutely delicious but because they seem to 'ethnic' for my yuppie-ass Roncesvales Village.

                                  I usually ask him to make it "thai hot" and good lord, does it ever rain fire.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: goodcookiedrift


                                    This is the freshest, most flavourful Thai I have had in a long time in Toronto, if ever. Can definitely recommend it if you are in the Roncesvalles or surrounding area.

                                  2. We've been enjoying Bangkok Paradise on Queen West the past few months.