When you order at a Thai restaurant, you're presented with two problems: How much flavor do you want on your plate, and how spicy can you handle it? Most Thai spots have traditional cooks that hit the recipe every time, so you have to know precisely what you want when you go to order at a Thai restaurant.. First off, dishes such as pad thai or pad see ew are sweet and savory when ordered without spice. Other dishes, especially pad kee mao, are plenty spicy and even the mild will cure a stuffy nose. Most restaurants offer three levels of heat (mild/none, medium, hot), and the Thai idea of medium is probably your idea of hot. To avoid getting something that'll end up being sent back, it's better to guess downward on the first try and move up if you dare.
That said, here are 10 top choices to order at a Thai restaurant:
- Pad Thai Stir-fry dish with a medley of veggies over noodles and your choice of protein (usually tofu, chicken or beef). It's a dish with flavor to spare and it makes a fine starting point the first time you order at a Thai restaurant.
- Pad See Ew This dish is fried in soy sauce and includes broccoli, wide egg noodles, your choice of protein and a whole mess of savory flavor. This is a simple dish geared towards a fan of spice-free dining and it doesn't need any sauces, given how much flavor gets cooked into the noodles.
- Pad kee mao Order this at a Thai restaurant for a spicy dish with wide egg noodles and varying veggies to be topped by your choice of protein. It'll clear up your sinuses, and it earns the nickname "drunken noodles" because rumor has it that enough flavor to perk up even the most hungover booze hound.
- Panaeng curry A curry that is almost exclusive to Thai restaurants in the U.S., it blends lemongrass, coriander and basil to make for a warming broth with your choice of protein. Seafood is a great choice with this curry, especially shrimp or scallops (or both).
- Beef salad A traditional Thai dish meant to be spicy and sweet, though mostly spicy. The beef that you order at a Thai restaurant will be very thinly sliced and be complemented with lime juice.
- Chicken satay Most commonly an appetizer, satay is served on skewers with peanut sauce. A great option to order at a Thai restaurant if you have kids who aren't willing to venture into more traditional Thai dining.
- Fried calamari It's not the same as the Italian joints. When calamari is ordered at a Thai restaurant, the squid is cut into even squares and quickly fried with thin layers of flour to be served with sweet and sour sauce, and it's mighty tasty.
- Fried egg rolls You'll want to order these at a Thai restaurant. Unlike Chinese establishments, the quality (and, sadly the cost) are higher, because the care taken in making these rolls is greater and the ingredients are often more fresh. One taste of a Thai roll with its perfectly crispy skin and perfectly stuffed-in mushrooms, onions and carrots, and it'll be tough to go back to floppy egg rolls elsewhere.
- Tom yum soup Lemongrass and a blend of veggies come together with a choice of protein to make for a very filling soup that is neither too spicy nor too sweet. To beat a flu, try it with chicken for a Thai version of chicken noodle soup.
- Tom kha soup Similar to tom yum, this soup comes with coconut milk and a hint of lime to cater to the sweet taste buds. Ask for shrimp in this and you'll be pleased.