Thai food is the third most popular cuisine in America (after Chinese and Mexican), according to a recent study of Google searches performed by barbecue experts foodfirefriends.com. With their unabashed use of fish sauce, chiles, and vibrant herbs and a remarkable knack for fusing sweet with bitter or sour with spice, Thai chefs have doubtless expanded the palates of those tentative gourmands who were first drawn in by the comforting nuttiness of a mild pad thai.
As the demand for authentic Thai cuisine grows, restaurateurs have found the freedom to expand their menus, offering spicier dishes that reflect the true heat of their homeland or devoting their kitchens to one of the country’s unique regional cuisines – or going casual with Thai fried chicken wings. (Here are the best chicken wings in America.)
Southern Thai cuisine is rich and characterized by the profuse use of coconut milk and cashews, products common to the South. Heavily spiced coconut curries are a staple of the area, and Malaysian influences are apparent. Central Thai cuisine – probably the most common type in the U.S. – is influenced by royal palace cooking and the urban innovations of Bangkok street food, and shows Chinese influence. (Here’s a list of the best Chinese restaurant in every state.)
Northern Thailand borders on Laos, and both northern and northeastern Thai food are similar to Lao cuisine, with a preference for sticky rice and simpler fare with fewer ingredients and less coconut. Northeastern Thailand (Isan) is the home of the som tam (papaya salad) and relies heavily on the use of fermented freshwater fish for flavor, while larb (a minced meat salad with fresh herbs and lime juice) is a staple of the cuisine.
To determine the best Thai restaurants in America, 24/7 Tempo exercised editorial discretion after reviewing information from a variety of sources including Eater, Time Out, Mashed, lovefood, and the Michelin Guide, as well as numerous local and regional sites and reviews by Google and Yelp users.
Click here to see the best Thai restaurants in America
As Los Angeles has the largest Thai population outside of Thailand, eight of the best Thai restaurants in the country are in and around LA. Three NYC boroughs have a total of 10 entries on the list. Five of those are in Queens, which also has a large Thai population – particularly in Elmhurst, where a small section of Woodside Avenue has become a Thai food destination. Isan cuisine is a highlight at some of these restaurants, while a few offer Chinese or Vietnamese fusion.
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