Thai'd For First: The Three Best Thai Restaurants in New York City

June 12, 2012 8:48 PM EDT | By Staff Writer
Pad Thai
The absolute perfect Pad Thai is right around the corner. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The year is 2012, and Thai cuisine is no longer the flavor of the week; it's here to stay. Having surpassed all expectations since it first exploded onto the New York City culinary scene just under a decade ago, Thailand's food-presence was expected to come and go the way of so many trendy, epicurean Dodos. But with its complex flavors, recalling something homey and far-away all in the same bite, Thai food remains the same adventure in eating now as it did ten years ago. But unlike other foods, this is one cuisine that encourages you to try everything but your own hand at it. Leave this one to the professionals, but don't settle for your local takeout place (unless it's one of the three below-- in which case, lucky you!). We'll show you where to go for the best Thai food in the city. The only downside here is that you may have to journey pretty far from your Upper East Side tower.

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Third Place: Sri Thai - East Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Before Sri Thai, Williamsburg had always been lacking in tremendous Thai food offerings. The underwhelming Kao Sarn, Amarin, and Siam Orchid held down deliveries but offered nothing in the way of actually good food. Fortunately, your hipster wishes have been granted.

Enter Sri Thai, the unpretentious restaurant just footsteps away from the Grand Avenue train station. It's almost literally a hole-in-the-wall, offering little more in decor than a post office does. Maybe that's what allows them to focus on what's really important: presentation and flavor.

I never, ever order Pad Thai from anywhere but here. Anywhere else, the noodles come in a lemony slime that is, at best, a familiar taste. At Sri Thai, they've figured out something about this dish that reminds this jaded eater why it has reigned supreme as the signature Thai dish in America. Bursts of flavor from Kaffir lime leaves are balanced with the utmost elegance by earthy peanuts and Thai spice. Get it with shrimp for the perfect protein to go with everything that's happening in it. And if you go for lunch, you can get the best lunch special in the city: an entree, a spring roll, and your choice of soup or salad for six bucks. And oh, that's right, they have a massive delivery zone.

Second Place: Potjanee Authentic Thai Restaurant - Greenwich Village, Manhattan

I remember when this place was just a ceiling fan, a counter, and a sign on the front that boasted to passersby that it was the only authentic Thai food in New York City. Now it's a little bigger, just a little more expensive, but somehow even better than it's ever been.

This place handles its spice perfectly, making it an active agent of your meal's flavor rather than a heavy-handed way of masking blandness behind a needless after-burn. They also know a thing or two about cooking duck, allowing some of that coveted fat to drip and sizzle into your noodles or over your rice. Get the Drunken Noodles with Roasted Duck here. They don't do any crazy variation on it-- in spite of Potjanees' epithet, its food doesn't feel any more or less authentic than what you'd get at any other Thai restaurant this side of the Pacific. But what is irrefutable is the food's deliciousness.

First Place: SriPraPhai Thai Restaurant - Woodside, Queens

I know you were hoping you weren't going to have to go too far out of your way for this one, but we promise you that once you're heading home on the 7 Train after a meal at our favorite Thai restaurant joint in the city, all you'll be able to think was how worth it the journey was.

SriPraPhai is the absolute finest Thai food in New York City, and the experience begins once you're handed a menu as thick as a Harry Potter book. Each item on the menu comes with a picture next to it, so you know almost exactly what you're getting. But unlike most food marketing, where the picture looks so much better than the product, having the food here is like listening to an amazing song for the very first time. You're enraptured by every second of it, and all you can do is think about playing it again, and again, and again.

I think the secret here is in their fish sauce, which must be home made and tastes closer to Filipino patis, flavored with fermented shrimp, than it does to the typical Thai fish sauce. When you consider Woodside's strong Filipino population, this speculation isn't too far out of the ballpark. They combine their mystery sauce with fresh mint, bunches of cilantro, bird chiles, and those all-too-essential Kaffir lime leaves for the dressing of their finest dish: Green Mango Salad with Shrimp, Squid, and Chicken. There are no words to describe the utter perfection of that citrus, that spice, and that exotic fish flavor all blending together in a jazzy symphony of taste. An empty plate licked clean of every drop of that strange and spicy dressing says more than any review ever could.

If you come before dinner, I urge you to be a little adventurous and try their beef noodle soup with tripe, liver, and other pieces of offal. It's only available till 5:00 PM, so get it while it's hot and ready.

If neither of those options float your boat, I'm sure that you'll find something on their gigantic menu, which includes a hefty back-quarter of it devoted to vegetarians and vegans, if that suits your fancy.

Happy eating!


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