It’s easy to find Thai food in cities and strip malls all over the country, but too often the pad thai, drunken noodles, and coconut milk curries are watered-down versions of the country’s cuisine. Happily, Philadelphia is home to a handful of Thai restaurants that aren’t afraid to introduce clientele to the real-deal sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors that make up the DNA of this fascinating Southeast Asian cuisine. These bright bursts of flavor can be influenced by a longtime shared culinary tradition between Thailand and Laos, which border each other. While dedicated Laotian restaurants are few and far between, it’s not uncommon to find a mix of both cuisines on a menu. Some of these 14 restaurants serve Thai food, some serve Laotian and Thai, and all are worth going to.Read More
The Best Thai and Laotian Food in Philly
14 essential restaurants for Thai and Laotian favorites
Chabaa Thai Bistro
Chef-owner Moon Krapugthong is a powerful presence on Main Street in Manayunk. Her beloved Thai BYOB is filled with regulars sharing lemongrass-scented seafood hot pots and pineapple turmeric fried rice. Just a few doors down, Krapugthong’s fast-casual Binto offers noodle plates, curries, and milky sweet Thai tea and coffees to go.
Sunny Phanthavong spent years working with her mom, Daovy, at Vientiane Cafe in West Philly before opening Vientiane Bistro, an outpost in Kensington where Lao beef jerky and three takes on papaya salad (Lao, Thai, and vegetarian) share menu space with spicy yum salads and eggplant sautéed with basil.
Chef Nok Suntaranon has moved her beloved Italian Market Thai BYOB to a much larger location in Fishtown. Thankfully, everything is as flavorful and fun as expected, including new additions like tropical cocktails. The menu of Southern Thai dishes is longer, so bigger groups will find lots to share, like miang pla phao — a whole grilled branzino served with pineapple, herbs, and rice noodles — or a towering tom yum kalaya with giant river prawns emerging from the fragrant broth. The chic restaurant recently started lunch service on weekends, and small groups can usually find a spot at the bar, but it’s best to book ahead for a table.
Little Thai Market
Like most places at Reading Terminal Market, come lunchtime lines at this simple steam table go long and move quick. The draw here is a lineup of Thai soups, apps, and entrees served over rice, all coming in under the $10 mark, and that includes the always-popular plate of salmon curry. Those looking to try their hand at Thai cooking at home can choose from a small selection of Southeast Asian groceries.
Pattaya Thai Cuisine
This impressive restaurant in University City is known for their contemporary Thai cuisine that’s notable. For example, their fried squid salad with spicy lime dressing and Chu Chee duck is a great introduction to Thai cuisine.
Smile Cafe Thai Restaurant
This beloved restaurant serves comfort Thai cuisine with familiar classics. Start with their flavorful yellow curry (served with onions, carrots, bell peppers, zucchini and coconut milk) and finish with decadent mango sticky rice.
JJ Thai Cuisine
This Rittenhouse BYOB introduces a bit of French flair into its Thai offerings. Curry puffs and escargot on the appetizers menu set the stage for mains like massaman short ribs and Australian rack of lamb with basil demi-glace.
Erawan Thai Cuisine
The first Thai restaurant to open in Philly, Erawan has garnered a reputation for being a great BYOB for those wanting to try Laotian food. Try their signature Massaman curry that’s rich and creamy in flavor with potatoes, onions, and peanuts with jasmine rice.
With hand-carved sculptures, original art set on richly hued walls, and sparkling chandeliers, this spacious Midtown Village spot, named for chef Chatayee Kapugthong, goes heavy on the glam. In the dining room, a well-executed menu of Thai classics arrive topped with fresh herbs and decorative veggie flowers, while a selection of street snacks keeps the bar packed from happy hour until late night. There’s also a separate vegan menu (don’t skip the autumn rolls).
Xiandu Thai Fusion Cuisine
This popular hotspot in Center City is known for their spicy dishes and their expansive menu of Thai cuisine. Their delicious Thai chili lemongrass dish is perfection when served with sautéed onions, string beans, broccoli, mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, cabbage, and basil in fresh lemon grass sauce.
This new addition to Philly is serving up the city’s first Thai tapas for diners who love small and large plates to share. There’s plenty to try here: Start with their spicy Panang curry, tasty pineapple fried rice, and Thai pork dumplings.
West Philadelphia’s go-to for Thai and Laotian fare began as a humble pop-up serving curries and noodles to neighbors from under a blue tarp in chef Daovy Phanthavong’s yard. She moved operations to a permanent spot on Baltimore Avenue in 2002 and it’s been a Philly favorite ever since. There are plenty of familiar Thai options on the menu, but it would be a shame not to order some of the Laotian dishes too.
Ratchada Thai & Laos Cuisine
Named for a main road in Bangkok, the menu at Donrutai Jainon’s South Philadelphia Southeast Asian eatery bounces back and forth between Laotian and Thai cuisines with dishes like charcoal-fired Thai Cornish hen and grilled sticky rice with house-made Lao sausages.
Circles Thai (multiple locations)
Ambiance was never high on this list of priorities for this former Chinese takeout shop. Setting up in Point Breeze in 2008, Circles has remained a quirky yet formidable source for tasty Thai delivery. Opening chef Alex Boonphaya may have fallen off the face of the earth, and the now-closed dine-in restaurant across the street never gained traction, but when it comes to Thai takeout, Circles always gets it right.