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I want to try Thai... again

I've been trying to like Thai food for years with no success. I'm not sure if it's just because I don't like Thai food or if I've just had extremely bad luck at trying Thai food. In theory it seems like something I would enjoy- I adore all other Asian cuisine (in fact, there isn't a cuisine I've encountered that I don't like- Thai is the one outlier).

So. I would not only love recommendations for restaurants, but what specific dishes I should order. (I've not bothered to even try Thai in Boston [at least I don't remember any place I tried] so all options are on the table)

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  1. What dishes have you tried and not liked? What is it about thai food that you don't like? Were the dishes you didn't like too sweet? Too oily?

    6 Replies
    1. re: maillard

      Yes, it would be enormously helpful if you could give us some details about what you haven't liked about Thai food in the past. I'm in much the same boat as you - most of the Thai food I've tried has been either way Americanized and too sweet, or so blazingly spicy-hot that I can't taste anything at all after the first couple of bites.

      1. re: Allstonian

        Where have you had blazingly hot Thai? Outside of NYC or SF, it's been tough to find. That's something I could get into!

        1. re: digga

          I have reason to believe that your definition of "blazingly hot" differs considerably from mine.

          1. re: Allstonian

            I've had blazingly hot in Tampa Bay. And I like hot but it was so hot I could not detect flavors at all. Certainly there is a point where it's more about the heat than flavor

          2. re: digga

            digga, I've gotten some pretty respectably hot stuff from Montien, off the Thai menu. Also, you can make it even hotter with the sauces they provide.

        2. re: maillard

          Agreed, It would be very insightful to know what kirs didn't like

        3. I'd start with three of the most common dishes that any decent Thai restaurant should be able to do well: pad thai (fried noodles), som tam (green papaya salad), and tom yum (lemon grass soup). All of these have slight variations like adding chicken or shrimp to the noodles and soup, and maybe shrimp or dried crabs to the salad, but they are basic Thai dishes. If you find a restaurant where you enjoy these, then you can branch out some.

          3 Replies
          1. re: arashall

            Why should any restaurant be able to do fried noodles well? The best restaurants in most cuisines are specialists.

            1. re: Luther

              are you disagreeing that pad thai, som tam and tom yum are not classic Thai dishes?

              1. re: foodieX2

                A classic dish ≠ A dish that every restaurant should be able to do well

          2. Rod Dee in Porter Square

            1. If you are willing to venture north, the food at Royal Orchid in Rowley is fresh and delicious.

              1. S&I is basically the only game in town. Order off the photo-menu on the walls, not the printed menu.

                Som tam, moo yang, pad ga pow moo krob, moo prik khing, and if you feel like something not-spicy the beef stew noodle soup is delicious, or you can go for the bright red khao moo dang. You should also try the crispy chicken served with a greasy, fragrant white rice and broth a la Singapore/Hainan chicken rice... but crispy and fried and boneless. Also, they prepare an expert-level mango sticky rice.

                16 Replies
                1. re: Luther

                  Luther, can you give descriptions of those dishes after som tum? I love S&I, but haven't ventured much further than the first 3 or 4 dishes we tried that were amazing and we keep re-ordering.

                  1. re: VintageMolly

                    You can google them, the version of each at S&I is no different from the descriptions you'll find online. You can also just ask for "spicy crispy pork" or "crispy duck basil" and stuff like that if you can't find the relevant picture on the wall and you don't want to simulate Thai. One of the great things about S&I is that they don't have default gringo-mode for foreigners.

                  2. re: Luther

                    +1 on S&I Thai - some very approachable but delicious dishes there in addition to what Luther recommends are the basil pad thai and the larb.

                    1. re: teezeetoo

                      Oh yeah, they have two distinct types of laab- with chicken, it's more of what you expect, moist and tangy. With duck or catfish, it's drier, with lots of ground dry red chiles. Both are good to try!

                      I usually don't get their fried noodle dishes, I always found them underwhelming when I did try (e.g. no wok hei on the drunken noodles, kind of boring flavor).

                    2. re: Luther

                      I would add Thai North and Dok Bua to the mix. Both VERY respectable options.

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        Especially Thai North. Although all these places put out quite a lot of the oversweetened blanded-out dishes so you can't just guess. Thai North, stick first to the "blackboard" menu (now on their printed and online menus). If chilis are an issue, there are plenty of non-hot options. One of the waitresses at Thai North told me she can't bear chili and can't imagine how people eat the stuff.

                        I like the noodle dishes at Rod Dee (Porter).

                      2. re: Luther

                        Completely agree! S&I is the best in the area. Thai food is based on four distinct tastes that, when combined correctly, add up to a true symphony of flavors. I'd second Som Tum, Tom yum goong or Thom Kha, pad ga pow moo krob, moo prik khing (damn Luther we have the same taste!). S&I also has great coconut curries (Masaman is great) which I usually shy away from because they are too sweet at most Thai places. Also, Larb Kai or any larb really would be a great intro dish. Frankly, when it comes to S&I, although consistency can be an issue, I've had dishes there that were more exciting and flavorful that Pok Pok in Portland.

                        Dok Bua is definitely above average and I finally tried Thai North last night. I ordered off the Northern specials blackboard and it was above average but didn't have that explosion of flavor that I get from S&I and despite asking for spicy (pèt sùt sùt) it was definitely not. Talking to them though I'm confident in my next visit. They were really friendly and once we talked about having spent a couple months up in Chang Mai and Bhurma when I was younger they assured me they could make me it Thai style spicy, and they will even make dishes not on the menu (laphet anyone?), which is just really really awesome. They also said the Khao Soi is their specialty.

                        1. re: Klunco

                          If you want Thai North at it's best (IMHO MUCH better than S&I in terms of complexity and overall flavor) you need to be there when the owner is in the kitchen... call first.

                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            is it possible to get good take-out or do I need to eat in?

                            and what is the owner's name

                            1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                              I think most of the stuff (unless fried) would travel well. Don't even know the name of the owner, but if you ask, they are always very straightforward.

                              Anything on the chalkboard is the really good Northern Thai stuff that is their specialty.

                            2. re: StriperGuy

                              Okay, will do. When is the owner in and what's their name? Also, what specials do you recommend?

                            3. re: Klunco

                              Fortunately, it's become diverse enough that we don't have to rely on a single 'best' restaurant. There are several great Thai restaurants with several non-overlapping specialities, which have been noted above. I agree with your and Luther's picks at S&I. Thai North makes some wonderful northern dishes you won't find at S&I or anywhere else in town. I agree with Aromatherapy about the noodles at Rod Dee, and there are some things on the Thai menu at Montien that I prefer over other places (kai yad sai, sai krawk issan, yum kra por plaa). The salads and 'blue-plates' ordered from the Thai menu at Pad Thai Cafe are excellent, and even the salads ordered from the Thai menu at Bangkok Blue have been standouts (particularly yum pla duk foo). Everybody's got their own set of goods, I try to keep 'em all on rotation. I can recall a time when all we had was Dok Bua and even they couldn't fully satisfy a jones sometimes. The options now are better than what you'll find in most cities around the US.

                              1. re: Nab

                                Wow, Bangkok Blue? This is the great thing about Chowhound. You can hit a place a bunch of times (I used to work near that joint) and never figure out what their standout is, but somebody did.

                                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  Yah I've had that salad at BB, it's pretty good

                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                    It's another one of these split personality deals, like Thai North. They do a pretty serious business with both gringos and Thais (mostly students, like Pad Thai Cafe). They have a sausage lady who delivers sai krok issan and when it's available it's quite good & sour. Their khao soi is excellent, but you have to request a chicken leg or thigh, or else you get the boob by default. Nam prik ong is usually available by request, although I don't think it's on the Thai menu (I'll have to double-check my copy later). Their phat phet plaa duk is also quite good, despite their heavy hand with bell peppers (gah).

                                     
                                     
                                2. re: Klunco

                                  S&I is our go-to Thai as well. We prefer the Pad Ga Pow to the Pad Ga Pow Moo Krob, as the latter is chunky fried pork, and the former, ground. Both are nice and hot. Their Papaya Salad is also great (and hot). The Basil Pad Thai is their best Pad Thai as well.

                              2. The first time I tried Thai, I went to a restaurant somewhere in S.F. and told the waiter I'd never had Thai food before and wanted to know what to start with. He said "Pad thai is the most popular dish, but start with Tom Kha Gai soup." It was the perfect intro to Thai for me -- creamy, sweet, sour, spicy, and savory all at once.

                                1. The King and I at 145 Charles St Boston great food and you will not be dissapointed.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Tucker23

                                    My own memory of The King & I, admittedly several years old now, is that it falls into the great swath of highly Americanized Thai restaurants: overly sweet, bland, relying on canned curries and Americanized ingredient substitutions like peas for Thai eggplant, and shunning traditional but challenging flavors like shrimp paste and fish sauce. I recall Western broccoli and crab rangoon on that menu. Has it changed?

                                    I'm just guessing based on probability, but I suspect that's exactly the type that the OP has tried and disliked.

                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      I have been dinning ther for close to twenty years and never have experienced what you have described.

                                      1. re: Tucker23

                                        As I said, it's been a few years, but there are a few things that I identify with a more traditional approach to Thai cuisine: fresh lemongrass, fresh galangal, Asian as opposed to Western vegetables (e.g., Thai eggplant or at least Japanese eggplant instead of the sweet peas that are a common cheap substitute in American Thai restaurants), generous use of fresh holy basil, fresh kaffir lime leaves, fresh green peppercorns on the stem, and the unmistakable fermented aromas of fish sauce and shrimp paste.

                                        I didn't detect any of those on my last visit to The King & I. Has it changed?

                                        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          I had lunch at King and I about a year ago and it was pretty good.

                                          They very much have discovered fish sauce. My favorite condiment.

                                          It was just a lunch special, but well executed.

                                          I'm hardly ever over there but I'd eat there again.

                                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                                            No, it hasn't - it's great for what it is ... A heavily Americanized Thai spot in beacon hill that can acommodate groups. Otherwise not so much

                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                              Totally agree, though their Pad Thai has always been very good.

                                      2. Montien's Thai menu is another good option.

                                        4 Replies
                                          1. re: joth68

                                            I love the pork with peppercorns on the Thai menu and the tendon fire pot soup.

                                            1. re: phatchris

                                              I have that pork/peppercorn dish teed up for dinner tonight. Moo pad med prik thai on..off the Thai menu which I have in front of me..:)

                                              I like the squid salad too.

                                              1. re: phatchris

                                                Thanks for the rec. Had pork/peppercorn dish for dinner last night. Great flavor and heat level. They have their thai menu on foodler so was able to get it delivered. Also tried the Kuay-Jubb which which was assorted piggie parts in broth with noodles but didn't particulary care for the flavor of the broth. Look forward to exploring the rest of the thai menu.

                                          2. Avoid the Rod Dee in Washington Sq, though.

                                            It's terrible!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: C. Hamster

                                              I generally like the Rod Dees, but my meal at the Washington Square one a few months ago was disappointingly bland.

                                              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                            2. Dear lord! Thanks for all the recs! Looking forward to trying some or all of the above.

                                              As for dishes I didn't like- I can't recall the exact things I tried but I wasn't even fond of the pad thai- and I really had a hard time dealing with anything that had coconut as its base.

                                              Will report back after I've tried again!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Kirs

                                                Maybe it's time to move on to another cuisine