The aromas of peanut sauce, lemongrass, and spicy chili pastes drifting throughout the dining room at Araya's Place may seem familiar at first, but the eatery isn't like most Thai restaurants. It eschews meats and dairy entirely, forging a distinctive menu that led The Stranger to hail Araya's University District location as "Thai vegan heaven."
Working exclusively with GMO-free tofu and produce sourced from local farmers whenever possible, the chefs cook classic Thai dishes as well as a handful of slightly more imaginative creations. "I do not want to be only Thai vegetarian food," owner Araya Pudpard explained to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2008, "I want to be international vegan food."
The international twists are evident throughout the menu's otherwise familiar selection of stir-fried noodle dishes and aromatic curries. A mélange of assorted garden vegetables, deep-fried and served with sweet-and-sour sauce, make up the veggie tempura, and the jasmine-tinged creme brûlée conceals a vegan and gluten-free custard beneath a one-molecule-thin layer of crisp sugar.
But even with these occasional twists, Thai staples still dominate the menu's pages. One of the restaurant's more iconic dishes, the tom yum soup, is so spicy that it has appeared on the Food Network show Heat Seekers, which features two chefs who travel around the country looking for mouth-burning dishes and ice sculptures to lick afterward.
A two-story, 1930s Wallingford house with a pillared front porch and white clapboard siding isn’t the typical setting for pad thai and green curry, but Djan’s Thai Restaurant doesn’t have an interest in being ordinary. Inspired by the eclectic, global tastes of co-owners and brothers Tum and Lek, the restaurant prides itself on fusing East and West in both its menu and decor. Input from chefs in Bangkok and New York City helped create the menu, which tempts diners to sink chopsticks into contemporary versions of classic Thai dishes, such as wok-fried ginger beef or fried rice with pineapple and tofu. Foundational Thai ingredients—coconut milk, bamboo shoots, bell peppers, and basil leaves—still appear on plates, but they share the stage with Hawaiian-style prawns and Japanese shrimp tempura. Instead of washing down mouthfuls by drinking from a date's seltzer-filled boutonniere, diners can sip the vintages from Washington, California, and Chile that grace a hefty wine list.
Djan's decor reflects its cuisine’s multicultural influences with modern, geometric tables and backlit alcoves that give a nod to the past with lanterns and suspended silver bells. For those who would rather eat in the comfort of their own homes or need to feed a party, the restaurant also offers delivery and catering.
Mai Thaiku, a relocated and reimaged incarnation of the now-closed Thaiku, boasts a new menu centered around the authentic Thai cuisine that Chef Anne Sawvalak grew up eating. This includes fresh salads built from green mango, wok-fried noodles with Chinese sausage or sliced pork, and curries simmered with fresh Thai basil or lime and cilantro. But fans of the old menu need not mourn: while The Seattle Times raved about the charred baby squid skewers, they also lauded the kitchen's willingness to prepare old Thaiku dishes when possible. To help toast favorites old and new, the restaurant also offers a cocktail list that infuses classic drinks with exotic ingredients. The potent concoctions include a martini made with black tea-infused vodka and an old fashioned made with the aphrodisiac yoshimbe, which is limited to one per customer or tired cupid.
Although Ayutthaya Thai Restaurant & Bar first opened its doors to Capitol Hill in 1985, its roots stretch back much further than that. The Zagat-rated eatery takes its name from the ancient capital of Thailand, and the menu finds similar inspiration in traditional Thai culture. The chefs rely on decades’ old recipes as they make five different kinds of curry in-house, and create dishes of pad thai wrapped in egg that embrace a culinary tradition that has become increasingly rare. To round out the menu, the chefs also wok-fry fragrant combinations of garlic, basil, lime leaves, ginger, and pineapple, forging entrees like the bathing rama, which the Seattle Times hailed as “a bit of peanut-sauce heaven.”
Hot-pink chairs, barstools, and booths cradle diners as they enjoy plates of Thai cuisine. The menu's fragrantly seasoned entrees borrow heavily from the recipes of Thailand, featuring various curries, fiery chili pastes, and housemade peanut sauce. Chinese staples include sweet-and-sour chicken, whose complementary flavors mirror the restaurant’s complex cocktails. Bartenders muddle jalapeños, infuse vodkas with blackberry and cantaloupe in-house, and periodically retreat to the back room to squeeze fresh milk from ripe coconuts.
As dinner parties cycle through, the modern setting begins to morph into a late-night lounge, which remains open until as late as 2 a.m. as DJs spin records and tap dance into the microphone.
At Thai Fusion, the chefs cook up a veritable tour of Thailand. Recipes start in the north with a Northern Thai grilled chicken curry and span all the way to Bangkok with street foods such as boneless roasted duck with jasmine rice and plum sauce. Thai staples such as pad thai and spicy curry are served, too, though diners who want to spice things up both literally and figuratively can order the pumpkin or pineapple curry or the crab-cake sliders that are slathered in homemade chipotle sauce and topped with jalapeno coleslaw. In a bar and lounge area marked by a large painting of a blue elephant, bartenders mix martinis flavored with lychee, mango, and ginger.