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 10 restaurants serve Thai food, some serve Laotian and Thai, and all are worth going to.Read More
Where to Eat Thai and Laotian Food in Philly
10 essential restaurants for Thai and Laotian favorites
1. Vientiane Café
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.
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2. 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.
3. Chatayee Thai
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).
4. 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.
This newcomer to Philadelphia’s Thai food scene came in hot at the beginning of the summer. Co-owners My-Le Vuong and chef Nok Suntaranon set out to offer beautifully presented southern Thai plates in all of their chile and fish sauce glory. The perennially packed dining room at their small Bella Vista BYOB is evidence that the city was ready for a Thai upgrade.
6. 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.
7. Circles Thai
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.
This new Pennsport BYOB serving Laotian and Thai dishes is from Restaurant School alum Yenh Thivarath. At Maliwan, she marries staples like chicken satay and fish cakes with sweet chile sauce with ambitious plates like Lao-style steak with fresh herbs and sticky rice.
9. Vientiane Bistro
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.
10. 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.