If goopy, overly sweet pad Thai leaves you fit to be tied, read on. Vancouver has an abundance of Thai restaurants that excel at modern and traditional styles of Thai cuisine. Some stick to old world recipes. Others update regional Thai classics and street food with locally-sourced ingredients. You just need to know where to look.
Remy got the ball rolling with his coverage of Vancouver’s best Thai cuisine in 2010. Here’s an updated look at Vancouver’s best Thai restaurants in 2012. If we’re missing one of your picks, please add it by commenting below.
Pink Elephant Thai, Coal Harbour
One of the newest additions to the Thai restaurant scene, Pink Elephant Thai, a chic, 88-seat hotspot on Alberni, celebrates its first birthday this month. Although the modern white/hot pink decor and killer cocktail list (think Bankok mojitos with Thai holy basil, Phuket caipiroshkas with lychee and Sumkumvit Lime Soda with curried celery salt) pulls a pretty crowd, the food is the real draw.
Chef Parichat Poomkajorn immigrated to Canada in 2000 and immediately began working with the award-winning Thai House Restaurant Group. Poomkajorn’s claim to fame is his exceptional broths – the base for noodle soups such as Keaw Teaw Moo with ground pork, tiger prawns, crispy bacon and ground peanuts.
Other menu standouts include the the giant scallops seared in tamarind and topped with shallot sauce, and the Alberni mango roll – a rice wrap with mango, lettuce and soft shell crab or prawn. Among the curries, my favourite was the delicate, signature Thai green curry with oyster and enoki mushrooms and chicken (you can choose from chicken, beef, pork, tofu, Tiger prawns, scallop or ostrich), served in an organic baby pumpkin. The spice-balance in the curry was perfectly executed and melted into the edible walls of the baby pumpkin in way it never quite does with rice. My dining partner was highly impressed with the double-spice beef with crispy basil chips, although it required several Singhas to cool off.
The best way to sample the most is to order the family style menus, which come in traditional and new world options.
Written up by The New York Times, Maenam is the darling of food critics who fall hard for Chef Angus An’s renditions of Thai food that use locally-sourced, sustainable ingredients. Chef An trained under the legendary David Thompson of London’s Nahm restaurant, the first Michelin-starred Thai restaurant. Thompson is best known for penning the 700-page recipe book Thai Food which is considered the bible of traditional Thai cuisine.
Like Pink Elephant, Maenam has a chic, modern tone with a minimalist decor and an impressive Thai-inspired cocktail list – if you’re aiming to tie one on. The best way to experience the cuisine is to order the Chef’s tasting menu which provides the Thai taste balance of hot, sour, sweet and salty with 5+ dishes served in the traditional Thai style.
Favourites include a fiery, crunchy som dtam green papaya salad with bird’s eye chili, long beans, garlic and carrot. If you’re a pad Thai fan, Maenam imports a rare tamarind syrup for the sauce, and when combined with ultra-fresh rice noodles, tofu, peanuts eggs and prawns it creates a sweet, but complex iteration of a Thai staple. The southern style dry curry with sirlioin takes Thai curry to new heights, in the same manner Vij’s renovated Indian cuisine. A medium rare grilled steak benefits from creamy coconut and peanut. But don’t expect them menu to remain the same; Chef An visits Thailand every year, in search of new inspiration.
Urban Thai Bistro, Yaletown
When Urban Thai opened in 2000, the restaurant focused on Thai fusion. When that Vancouver food trend came and went, they skillfully adapted keeping the most popular contemporary dishes, but focusing more on traditional Thai cuisine.
Pick any night of the week and Urban Thai is buzzing. The deep booths and low slung fringed lamps are perfect for cozy conversation over budget-friendly, deeply flavourable dishes. Standouts include sweet, salty and sour lettuce wraps with lean ground chicken, and the intricate, fuchsia, flower-shaped tapioca dumplings stuffed with ground pork, peanuts, turnips and cilantro. The pad Thai, a great way to judge a Thai restaurant, lives up to the challenge. While the curries, that come with exotic meats like duck and ostrich, provide a nice heat and sweetness (think fresh lychees, coconut meat and pineapple), simple dishes like charcoal-grilled chicken with fresh Thai herbs take centre stage.
Plus it’s soon patio season and this Hamilton Street spot has a large outdoor space for people-watching.
Coming soon: Rimfoodbaht Food Cart
As of May 1, authentic Thai cuisine will be available from the new Rimfoodbaht Food Cart – one of the 12 new Vancouver food carts. During the food cart elimination process, Rimfoodbaht prepared shrimp wraps with ginger sauce for the judges. This food cart will be situated at Hamilton & Robson.
What’s your favourtie Thai food joint in Vancouver? Weigh in by commenting below.