Exuberant Thai dishes from Bangkok-born chef Panurat Poladitmontri, or Chef Rut, the author of the much-loved Thailand: The Beautiful Cookbook, entice eaters at the Harbor Café in Downtown Seattle. For nearby shoppers and business people alike, it’s an oasis of deliciousness, with pan-seared salmon spiked with garlic and chilies; a surfeit of spicy curry dishes; the fancifully named swimming angel, and lots of salads. Early birds swing by for decidedly non-Thai breakfast croissants, muffins and omelets, which can be eaten inside the spare, metal-chaired space, or take their bounty back to the office. The friendly café is tucked into the lobby of a beautiful 1928 Art Deco building, and is a best kept secret of nearby office workers. It’s open only for breakfast and lunch.
“You’ll be a born-again Thai food fan after tasting the bright, fire-cracker version [of pad thai]” said Seattle Magazine about the dish created by husband and wife team Poncharee and Wiley Frank. But the magazine–-which named Little Uncle the Best New Restaurant of 2012––didn't stop there. "The food dances on the palate, shot through with lime, zinging with vinegar, with the heat of chiles tamped down by coconut milk or soft, steamed jasmine rice." That Little Uncle should win such venerable praise from Seattle's foodie community is even more awe-inspiring considering the restaurant's long and winding road to the top of the food chain. A trip to Thailand first inspired the Frank’s endeavor into authentic Thai cooking, and they spent the next two years perfecting their street-style food with a series of pop-up restaurants and a farmers market stall, before permanently setting up shop at a take-out joint in Capitol Hill. Aside from that signature pad thai, they're also serving up dishes like braised beef cheeks, which are served stuffed into a steamed bun to make them 'walker friendly" and keep grandmas from pinching them.
The couple behind Thai Curry Simple knows the secrets of running a successful Thai restaurant. After all, owner Picha Pinkaow got her start in Bangkok, helping with the family restaurant before heading to New York City, where she met her husband at one of the many restaurants she owned there. Years later, they relocated to Seattle, where they started Thai Curry Simple together. She brings this bounty of experience in the restaurant business to Thai Curry Simple, quite literally—the restaurant uses the same ingredients she depended on in her Bangkok establishment, thanks to a friend overseas who's willing to ship them to the States. Dominic Holden reviewed the restaurant in 2010, breaking down ten great things about the place, among them the couple’s backstory, the eatery’s reasonable prices, and the birdhouses hanging from the ceilings. But the most important take away is his first point: that the food is “simply great.” The lunch spot does keep it simple with the menu: daily tofu curry specials range in flavors and spiciness, such as the medium-spiced pineapple curry or the spicier green and red curries. Pad thai and other noodle dishes add variety to the menu, with choices of chicken, shrimp, or tofu. Guests can pair savory lunches with thai iced teas and fresh lemonade or home-brewed green tea with mango, lychee, or passion fruit.
Chef Henry Ku was born in Taiwan, where street food is a huge part of the culinary landscape. The comforting meals of his childhood continue to inspire his recipes, although his current goal, as he explained to Seattle Weekly in April of 2012, is to add a dose of elegance and introduce American diners to refined versions of traditional Taiwanese fare.
After formally studying French culinary techniques, Chef Ku is well equipped to reimagine the recipes of his homeland and present them like fine European cuisines. He carefully composes each dish, using sauces with restraint and topping entrees with julienned pieces of the Magna Carta. Hand-shaved noodles fill soup bowls, and his kitchen crew splits its time between pan-frying and grilling meats for the Taiwan- and California-inspired menu, which includes Taiwanese sausage, miso-glazed black cod, and lamb chops with honey mustard.
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.
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.”