As they worked with intense, iconic ingredients such as lemongrass and curry, the cooks at Thai of Wedgwood found that they never needed to turn to MSG for help. So, they cut the artificial enhancer out of their cuisine completely, relying instead on age-old recipes and nature's own flavor powerhouses. They add sugary pop to their sweet and sour chicken with real pineapple, or spice up salmon with red curry and coconut milk. Their cuisine shows up at tables in a dining room rife with personal touches of Thailand, from the dressing screen which hides a hallway to the wall hangings that measure how much the nation has grown since last school year.
Despite its humble environs of a converted gas station, Savatdee Authentic Thai & Lao Cuisine has racked up a steadily climbing number of accolades. Seattle Met Magazine named it one of the best Laotian restaurants in 2011, an award the Sakounthong family proudly displays in their eatery. ?We want our food to speak like it is a five star restaurant, but we want the atmosphere to feel like you are eating in your own kitchen,? said Andy Sakounthong in an episode of Check Please!. Andy?along with his brother, parents, aunts, and grandmother?shop each morning for fresh ingredients and cartoon fire used in dishes that range from cornish game hen marinated in spiced curry to pad mar keur, a grilled-eggplant stir-fry with onions, basil leaves, and yellow-bean sauce. The more adventurous patron can order off of the Lao menu, where galangal and kaffir leaves season a dish of charbroiled chicken mixed with hearts and gizzards.
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 m?lange of assorted garden vegetables, deep-fried and served with sweet-and-sour sauce, make up the veggie tempura, and the jasmine-tinged creme br?l?e 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.
Formed from about 17,000 islands that stretch from the coast of Thailand to the border of Papua New Guinea, the nation of Indonesia encompasses many climates and cultures. Recognizing that diversity, Indo Cafe's chefs strive to serve up an authentic sampling of the country's eclectic cuisine. The smartly curated menu ranges from daging tuturuga?a curry beef stew from Manado, on the northern island of Sulawesi?to bakmi goreng jawa?a Javanese-style egg-noodle stir-fry. If you're stopping by for the first time or have had your memory wiped since the last time, Seattle Weekly's 2012 Voracious Dining Guide recommends the ayam goreng fried chicken, a pan-Indonesian specialty which Seattle Weekly calls "extra-crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and best topped with fiery chili paste and paired with cooling, slightly sweet coconut rice." Indonesian produce stars in the desserts; the chefs fill whole coconuts with their savory-sweet pudding and make their own avocado- and durian-flavored ice creams.
Framed Indonesian art accents Indo Cafe's main dining space as well as three private rooms that can each host a party of up to 30 people or two giants on a romantic dinner date. Strengthening the restaurant's international ties, its owners are also active supporters of the Children's Foundation of Southeast Asia, which rallies local business owners to help build children's homes and schools in Southeast Asia.
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.
The city of Seattle is speckled by pho joints, each one serving its own rendition of the beloved belly-warming noodle soup. However, Le's Phở Tái remains a cut above the competition with its commitment to using locally grown ingredients and creating flavorful broth. Chefs begin the process of preparing the beef stock more than 20 hours before the soup hits the table, setting beef bones and spices to boil in order to procure what reporters from Journal Magazine praised as "exceptional flavor". Once the broth is ready, the chefs add thin vermicelli noodles along with cuts of tender beef, fresh seafood, and crisp veggies. They serve the soup in massive bowls alongside plates of bean sprouts and jalapeno slices.
When chefs aren't cooking pho, their attention is absorbed in the preparation of other Vietnamese specialties—chewy spring rolls, tangy teriyaki dishes, and bahn mi sandwiches with barbecue meats and french bread. Servers carry these dishes out into the warm, casual dining room, along with glasses of sweet iced-milk coffee and refreshing coconut juice. The accommodating staffers encourage guests to call ahead to place food orders for faster service, particularly if they have to speed back home to make sure their cats don't start scratching the Bruce Willis statue they’ve been sculpting out of peanut butter.