Chicago Thai Restaurants
Authentic Greats and Americanized Takes

If there's a defining moment in the Chicago Thai food scene, it has to be the point in 2003 when some determined local foodies took it upon themselves to translate Spoon Thai's semi-secret Thai-language menu into English. Decoding that menu, which the eatery had presumably deemed too exotic for non-natives, meant anyone could sample such dishes as banana blossom salad and spicy-sweet boat noodles. Since then other restaurants have followed suit by adding more unfamiliar dishes to their menus, though of course plenty of crowd-pleasing American-style Thai restaurants remain.
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Ravenswood: Secret Menu Decoded

Though Spoon Thai's original English menu still stands intact, it's been largely overshadowed by the now-not-so-secret Thai-language menu. Diners come to try the dishes they haven't seen elsewhere, including pork neck with lime juice and sukii-yaki naam, a spicy mung bean noodle dish that can be ordered "wet" (in spicy broth) or "dry" (stir-fried and sauced).

Near North: Cushioned Floor Seating

With its raised rafters and large, open layout, Star of Siam feels like a downtown loft. Maybe that's why guests aren't shy about getting comfortable, often pulling up cushions and sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of low-slung tables before savoring cashew chicken and mussaman curry.

Albany Park: 12-Course Meals

Arun’s is widely regarded as one of the best Thai restaurants in the city, but it hasn't been an easy journey to the top. A laudatory 2012 feature in Chicago Magazine explains how Arun Sampanthavivat went from an academic with no formal culinary training to an expert chef who, working without a printed menu, creates 12 course meals based on nothing more than his own whims.

Bucktown: Trendy Cocktails

If the neon mood lighting and curvy white furniture feel trendy, it's on purpose—the eatery is named for a happening Bangkok district sometimes compared to Wall Street. Go with it: pair a Silom's spice cocktail (ginger iced tea and vodka) with crispy pork shank in pineapple sauce.

Horner Park: Adventurous Menu

Like Spoon Thai, Sticky Rice lives a double life. On the one hand there are the knockout curries and tom yum soups. Venture further down the Northern Thai menu, however, and the terrain won't look so familiar. Be prepared for larb (ground pork and intestine stir-fry), khai jiaw khai mod (ant egg omelets), and even fried bamboo caterpillars.

Lincoln Square: House Hot Sauce

Call it another Chicago three-peat: from 2010 to 2012, the Chicago Reader named Opart Thai the best Thai restaurant in the area. Credit goes to the sheer scope of the 100+-item menu, plus to the acclaimed tiger cry, a skewered beef appetizer spiced up by housemade hot sauce.

East Hyde Park: Spicy Specialties

The Snail was named after a Thai fable in which a boy hidden away in a snail shell breaks out to become a great king. The resonance is obvious: the restaurant's small space holds powerful flavors, as in the beef larb, a spicy noodle dish with toasted rice powder, lime juice, chili powder, and cilantro.

Roscoe Village: Maximum Spiciness

By all accounts the dishes at Pho’s Thai Cuisine are about as spicy as edible food gets. Unless you’ve got taste buds of steel, don’t venture past “medium” when ordering the panang curry (or any other dish that gives you an option), and don’t approach “extra hot” without a fire marshal present.

Bucktown: Local Art

What’s the meaning of the series of cutouts that depict a man transforming into a fox on the walls of Thai Lagoon? Who knows? The restaurant likes to show off works by local artists, so be prepared to discuss composition and color over the eatery’s sauteed basil chicken and sesame tuna steaks.

Lake View East: Seating for Large Groups

Large groups have always been able to stretch out on the rear patio of Joy's Noodles and Rice, but ever since a 2005 remodel expanded the restaurant's interior space dramatically, they've fit comfortably indoors too. In either case they can sip on BYOB beverages and sample the popular pad see eiw.

Wrigleyville: Kitschy Decor

Hundreds of Pez dispensers, toy robots, and Disney figurines decorate seemingly every inch of this restaurant, even in the restrooms. The food is less over-the-top. Seated at tables made from repurposed sewing machines, diners savor crispy crab rangoon and spicy panang curry simmered with coconut milk.

Galewood: Whole Fried Fish

After a nine-year stint at Arun's, executive chef Rangsan Sutcharit has established his own culinary identity at Amarind's, where his specialties include whole fried fish dishes. With most entrees in the $10–$12 range, the prices compare favorably to Arun's too.

Lakeview: Master Chef

The press has covered chef Andy Aroonrasameruang's new venture with gusto—big shock considering he turned TAC Quick Thai Kitchen into one of the most revered Thai spots in the city. Mere weeks after opening night, the Tribune was raving about the shrimp paste dip and fried tempura salad. The Sun-Times’ instant verdict? “Maybe Chicago’s best Thai restaurant.”

Lakeview: Thai Language Menu

TAC is another restaurant sometimes credited with kicking off Chicago’s Thai renaissance, and like the others, the breakthrough occurred thanks to the translation of its "secret" Thai-language menu. There diners find authentic eats such as kuay teaw yen ta fo (shrimp, squid, and fish ball noodles) and stir-fried braised pork hock.