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Thai in Philly


philadining
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I realized that the Siam Lotus thread was veering off-track, and it seems like we probably should have a more generic Thai discussion here.

So, are there places you especially like? The general consensus seems to be that there's plenty of decent Thai food to be had, but not much exemplary dining. Are we missing something?

I've been impressed by Siam Lotus, Vientiane, (which is really Laotian, but they serve many dishes that are generally thought of as Thai) and of course Nan, although I rarely get the things on the menu that are more traditionally Thai, opting instead for the fusion stuff. That said, he makes some fine straight-up Thai dishes...

Matt says he likes Smile Cafe.

What else?

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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have you ever checked out cafe de laos on 11th street?

we always order from the laotian side of the menu, but the thai things we've ordered have been good too. no one i'm with ever wants the ant egg soup though.

disclaimer: by 'good' i mean 'i liked it,' not 'just like in bangkok.' i don't know from real thai food, having never been to thailand. i just know what i like, and how it compares to regular old american thai food you get everywhere around town. basically if someone makes something other than the usual stuff, i dig it. well, if it's good, that is.

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Erawan has pretty authentic Tom Gai kha.

Most of the food is decent too.

Mai-Thai is a bit westernized.

The first one in philly was Siam Cuisine in Chinatown.

Lemongrass on lancaster avenue was excellent in it's first two years but went slightly downhill after the owner Bo opened a second place on the mainline.

It may still be good.......

Erawan is probably the most authentic.....

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i have been to Cafe de Laos and liked it very much. details are vague as once was a long time ago and the recent visit was takeout (and so less memorable by default). i will have to go again soon and have a proper dinner so i can report.

my problem reviewing Thai food for authenticity is that i'm not sure how to qualify. if there's a gold standard i can go to first point me in the right direction! from the thread so far it looks like i'll be starting at Erawan. convenient that my lady lives two blocks away. :biggrin:

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matt o'hara

finding philly

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i have been to Cafe de Laos and liked it very much. details are vague as once was a long time ago and the recent visit was takeout (and so less memorable by default). i will have to go again soon and have a proper dinner so i can report.

my problem reviewing Thai food for authenticity is that i'm not sure how to qualify. if there's a gold standard i can go to first point me in the right direction! from the thread so far it looks like i'll be starting at Erawan. convenient that my lady lives two blocks away. 

Matt, without resorting to pointless authenticity threads, here is the skinny on Thai food.....

The food of Thailand is probably the cuisine that is most dependent on essential oils to support it's flavor, without getting too technical, the most important flavor components have a huge difference in impact between fresh and dried.

Also between fresh and canned.

Lemongrass

Galanga and not ginger

Kaffir lime leaves

cilantro roots not the plants.

coconut milk

lime juice

fish sauce

chilies

dried shrimp paste.

Problems are yes fresh coconut milk is very impractical to make but a good canned one thinned with boiling water makes a great sub.

Boiling water because the heat releases coconut oil.

Dried kaffir lime leaves are useless, it would be like making pesto with dried basil.

Fish sauce and Shrimp paste smell outright nasty but they add the Umami that makes thai food unbelieveable, restaurants therefore use them shy.

Some purists (thai and italian) also believe that pesto and Thai curry paste in this case tastes 10 times better if made with a mortar and pestle....again a bit impractical.

Add the issue of heat tolerance chili-wise and the fact that a lot of thai places use brown sugar and not palm sugar, it gets far too complex to do "authentic" unless you make the damn food yourself at home.

Like I said erawan is good,it si pretty hard to get good pad thai in philly though.

Go out and have some fun.

even if it's bad you learn something.

You know what they say, an ocassional corked wine is part of educating your palette.

For more on the subject, this book is one of my top 10 cookbooks.....

http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Sour-Salty-Sweet...75663228&sr=1-2

Edited by Vadouvan (log)
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which Erawan is that? oh wait, THIS Erawan?:

(edited to correct the soup names)

Tom Khar Kai

gallery_52886_4450_40729.jpg

Tom Yum

gallery_52886_4450_104693.jpg

Shrimp Prik Something

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Crispy Duck

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Please let me never run out of inspirations for places to eat! Thanks eG!

I know i've had great Thai before (Holy Basil in NYC is one standout) but like i said uppost it's been a long time. and Smile i really like but the four dishes i tasted at Erawan today really set a great standard for my future Thai tastings.

Man that Tom Yum kills it! Creamy and sour and spicy! Tomato, oyster shrooms, chicken, coconut milk and...

The Tom Khar Kai! Hot and sour soup with lemongrass shoots, scallions, kaffir leaves, fresh galangal and...

The shrimp dish had the most garden-fresh green beens i've had since we picked them in my grandmother's garden. Red peppers, shrimp and sauce. straightforward and delicious.

The Crispy Duck was great! nice anise flavor from the star anise, Thai basil and broccoli.

Karen was worried that the cream sauce would have actual cream in it (she's intolerant) but our waitress told us that it was just coconut milk so we went at it. It's nice for her to get a cream sauce that she can eat!

I'm super-happy this thread came up and we found Erawan. It's just a few blocks from Karen's house and we'll be happily comparing it with Smile Cafe all summer long.

Thanks for the notes V and i'll check that cookbook soon!

-matt

p.s. this was my second lunch after trying the rabbit empanadas at Rae (very good) after an interview i had today. hooray for 2nd lunches!

Edited by mattohara (log)

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matt o'hara

finding philly

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Excellent report Matt, thanks!

Your descriptions make me want to check this place out soon, even more than before... For some unknown reason I haven't been in there since it changed from the Thai Royal Barge.

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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Tried Erawan recently, and it was good, but I'm not sure it stood out as being significantly better than most places around town. They offer a slightly broader menu than many other restaurants, notably with some Northern dishes. We didn't make any special requests for the authentic experience, just wanting to try the food straight off the menu.

gallery_23992_4444_41935.jpg

I can't for the life of me remember what this was called, it was on the "Spacials" menu. Marinated pork, wrapped in bacon, what could be bad about that? I can't say I loved it, but I did like the slightly sour flavor of the pork, spiked up by a dip in what seemed like straight-up Sriracha sauce. The peanuts, fresh ginger and and other accompaniments were nice flavorings, but I wasn't at all clear about how one was supposed to add those elements to the pork. I think I might have wrapped them all in a lettuce leaf if I had one...

Seafood Tom Yum

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This was also from the specials menu, not the standard Tom Yum, which can be had with chicken or shrimp. This featured mussels, shrimp, and squid in a hot and sour broth. It had a strong mussel flavor, and was pretty tasty, but in terms of both taste and quality of ingredients, the similar soup at Siam Lotus was WAY superior.

Penang Curry

gallery_23992_4444_36934.jpg

This was very good, but I'd ordered it specifically to compare it to Penang curry I had recently, and I gotta say that Siam Lotus rolls right over this one. Comparatively, the Erawan version just seemed kind of flat and more coconut milk than curry. I'd asked for it spicy, and it really wasn't. Still, not bad in any way, just not nearly as vivid as Siam Lotus.

Curry Garden

gallery_23992_4444_40690.jpg

Yet another special, kind of a kitchen-sink melange of vegetables, fried tofu, chicken, and some sort of undefined curry. Despite that vague description, it was really quite tasty. The construction suggests a crowd-pleasing little bit of everything, but you know, it worked, it pleased our crowd.

All in all, we had a good meal, and I might go back and try a few of the more unusual things. But it hasn't risen especially high in my personal rankings. Service was very pleasant, it's an attractive enough place, portions were large, prices were fair. The overall food quality was decent, but the chicken was not especially tender, the mussels in the soup were a little chewy, the sauces were good but not as intense as other places. Again, worth another visit, but not a new favorite spot...

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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  • 1 year later...
Excellent report Matt, thanks!

Your descriptions make me want to check this place out soon, even more than before...  For some unknown reason I haven't been in there since it changed from the Thai Royal Barge.

Bringing this back up, but didn't Thai Royal Barge close in the late '70s or sometime in the '80s?

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My recollection is the 23 & Sansom location was Thai Royal Barge into the 90s. Since then, it's been Erawan.

Bringing this back up, but didn't Thai Royal Barge close in the late '70s or sometime in the '80s?

Charlie, the Main Line Mummer

We must eat; we should eat well.

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  • 1 month later...

I haven't been there in a while, but I second Chabba Thai in Manayunk. They have the spiciest, most flavorful red curry I have had. It's actually TOO spicy for me, but is so delicious that I still order it almost every time. Very nice atmosphere too.

"He was a very valiant man who first adventured on eating oysters." - King James I

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  • 4 weeks later...

Tried a couple of things at the new Thai Chef & Noodle (2028 Chestnut) and had a mixed experience.

The big appetizer combo-platter thing reminded us why we never order big appetizer combo-platter things. Everything was cold, which was pretty sad for the (blah) satay, but really tragic for springrolls and fried dumplings.

Tom Yum and Tom Kha Gai were OK, but nothing special.

An entree called "Bangkok Garlic" with chicken tasted like chicken with garlic on it, and not much else.

We were getting a little depressed right about then, when salvation arrived in the form of Wild Boar with Red Curry. This was quite good, featuring thin slices of tender pork in a vibrant, assertively spicy curry, laden with peppercorns. I'd go back anytime just for this, although a friend mentioned that (the latest) Erawan menu features this dish too, and that it was at least as good there.

Given that this place's name includes "Noodle Fusion" we figured we needed to get some unusual noodles, so we went for the Burmese egg noodles in and Indian curry broth. Those were very nice too, the curry a little sweet, the noodles retaining a good chew as they soaked up the delicious broth.

Servers were very nice, and the place is pleasant enough, although the monumental undersea murals, and weird flashing star-shaped-light thing can be a bit overwhelming. Portions were pretty generous, but then the prices were a little bit higher than average too.

So, we had some good dishes, and there are probably plenty more hidden in the massive, and dizzyingly repetitive menu. I even suspect that the appetizers might be good ordered separately, but the special combo platter is a loser.

But then, deep down, we knew it would be.

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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I've been ordering takeout lately from Plan Eat Thai (1516 Tasker Street, (267) 687-1778) and while nothing has totally made my head spin, it's been solid and very tasty every time. Tom Yum soup was credible, green curry was excellent. I haven't ordered Pad Thai yet, but that would certainly be a worthy benchmark.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I've been ordering takeout lately from Plan Eat Thai (1516 Tasker Street, (267) 687-1778) and while nothing has totally made my head spin, it's been solid and very tasty every time.  Tom Yum soup was credible, green curry was excellent.  I haven't ordered Pad Thai yet, but that would certainly be a worthy benchmark.

Funny that. I had their food for the first time last week, and I was really impressed by how solidly good everything was. Their pad thai was the best I've had in a long time, the papaya salad was perfectly seasoned, the green curry was excellent, and even the pineapple fried rice was much better than I expected.

I'll need to check whether they'll deliver out my way. I'm not a whole lot further away than you, if memory serves.

Edited by Capaneus (log)
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Glad to hear the Pad thai is worth ordering. I'll likely try that next time.

Andrew - just call them up and ask for the basic stuff the first time. Tom Yum soup, Tom Kha Gai soup, red or green curry with protein-of-your-choosing, Pad Thai. Make sure you ask them to include a menu for you to have for future reference. That should take care of the first order and set you up for the subsequent ones.

Capaneus - I order takeout from there at work, so they definitely deliver to 7th & South. Undoubtedly they'll deliver to Andrew as he's so close by, but I suspect you are within their delivery range as well. I think delivery is free with a minimum order of either $10 or $15. They've always been reasonably quick as well - about 30 minutes or so if memory serves me well.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Right! I ordered from Plan Eat Thai tonight. The green curry is indeed terrific. Spicy, but well-balanced flavors, great vegetables. I'd get it again in a heartbeat. The tom yum soup is not bad at all. Spring rolls were only so-so (though they improved after I stuck them in the toaster oven to crisp up a bit); according to the menu there are also "Thai" spring rolls (for $2 more) which I'll order next time. I was disappointed by the pad thai, which was a little overcooked and too sweet for my taste: I prefer the version over at the eponymous restaurant on 2nd Street.

So there's a range from so-so to first-rate. But the best part: it's DIRT cheap! $20 for two entrees, soup and spring rolls. Portions aren't huge, but I'd rather have less food for less money.

Now that I have a menu, I'll be ordering from them again, and looking deeper into the menu.

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I had late lunch delivered to work today from Plan Eat Thai as well. I ordered the Pad Thai lunch special ($5.95 for entree, soup and spring roll before 4PM!!) and an order of Tom Kha soup too. $12 with a tip for enough food to get me through my shift and a snack when I got home tonight. I ordered my Pad Thai with shrimp and tofu. It was good. I didn't find it too sweet as Andrew did, but it wasn't the best version I'd ever had either. The chicken rice soup that accompanied my lunch special was tasty and much improved with a squeese of fresh lime in it. My spring roll was decent, but it was still pretty hot when I ate it. Tom Kha soup was delicious! Plan Eat Thai is very reasonably priced for the caliber of food that you get.

Siam Lotus was probably the best sit down Thai I've had in Philly. Pad Thai is about half a block from my house so I'll occasionally order takeout from there too. It's always been adequate. Need to find a place that has a real Thai chef and staff. Anyone know anything about the ownership/kitchen staff of our limited choices??

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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We've had very good experiences with Thai Chef and Noodle. We've eaten there once and have had delivery from them once. We too had that wild boar dish, and we thought it was excellent. We had the appetizer combo platter when we ate there and it was actually quite good -- everything was warm, and tasty.

Moon Dumplings ("fried stuffed minced pork, vegetables, sweet and sour chili soy sauce") are very good.

"Jungle Queen" ("boldly spiced tofu sauteed with vegetables medley, exotic spices and Thai herbs") tastes a lot (sauce-wise) like the Panang Curry (which we had w/ chicken when we ate there), and both are delicious.

Crispy Duck ("double cooked half duck, outside crispy, inside tender served with ginger black bean and plum sauce") is fantastic. The description is (surprisingly) accurate: the outside is perfectly crispy, flaky even, and perfectly seasoned, and the meat itself is tender and flavorful. We had this both when we ate there and when we got delivery, and -- incredibly -- it might have even been better when we got it delivered. The styrofoam container had slots punched out to prevent condensation, and it worked. Leftovers even reheated remarkably well the day after.

We also like the Pad Thai a lot, but we're not experts by any means.

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Our continuing search for awesome Thai food has so far been unsuccessful, but along the way, we've run into some surprisingly good dishes.

As mentioned above, there are a few things at Thai Chef and Noodle Fusion that we liked a lot, and that pattern has been repeated at the next few places: a few good items, maybe even an excellent one here or there, a few blah...

At Tamarind (on South St, near front) we found a few things we liked, and especially enjoyed that there were several Isan preparations, reflecting a northern regional style that's not widely seen around Philly.

In fact, we started with the Isan Sausage

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Which was especially good smeared with a little of the hot sauce, which seemed like a tame Sriracha.

gallery_23992_2186_28835.jpg

Chicken Satay was nicely executed, then meat still tender and juicy, although the peanut sauce was a bit less interesting than some we've had.

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Isan Style Pork Loin was a little on the dry side, but the flavors were quite nice, it had a tangy sweetness and some intriguing spicing not commonly seen in most Thai restaurants.

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Yellow Curry with Chicken was very good, but on the subtle side. Of course yellow curries tend toward that range, but even though it was very pleasant, we've had other yellow curries that were more vivid.

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Tamarind Noodles with Beef had a solid level of chile spice propping up the sour sauce, and the noodles them selves had a pleasingly firm texture, but the beef was dry and uninteresting.

Overall we liked Tamarind, and plan to go back to try more of the menu, especially more Isan specialties. We also noticed some very nice-looking duck dishes passing our table, so we'll have to try them as well...

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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A few days later, we headed up to Erawan (menupages link>>) on 23rd St near Sansom. It had changed hands sometime in the not-too-distant-past, so we were curious how it was holding up. This space housed one of the earliest Thai restaurants in Philly (the Thai Royal Barge) many years ago, and although it doesn't look like much from outside, it's always been a nice space.

The menu hasn't changed much, if at all, since the change, it looked very familiar from the last time I'd been there. And I'd say the food was every bit as good, maybe even better than it had been.

We weren't convinced at first... We started with an order of their version of Thai sausage, and while it wasn't bad, it wasn't especially interesting either, reminding us of a mild, unsmoked kielbasa. Still, that's not so terrible, it was fairly tasty, just not quite as interesting as Tamarind's version, or the dill-spiked Laotian sausages at Vientiane. (The light is pretty dim in there, and despite a heroic assist from il professore's iPhone, I didn't manage to get a good photo of the sausages...)

We got the lighting system down for the "Tha-iriffic Golden Tofu"

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which was merely OK. It was fried tofu. Well-made, mind you, nicely crisp and not at all greasy, but in the end it's just fried tofu.

gallery_23992_2186_78673.jpg

Fish Cake was better, with a touch of curry behind the fish. But this still left us a little less than thrilled.

Thankfully things took a turn with the entrees.

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Masaman Beef was one of the better renditions of this classic "Muslim curry" that I've had in Philly. The sauce had a cinnamony sweetness that balanced the mild heat and complex spicing. Peanuts and potatoes provided textural contrast to the tender beef. I still yearn for the slow-cooked, chunky version that was served years ago at a restaurant in the space that is now Tamarind, but this is not a bad substitute!

gallery_23992_2186_88498.jpg

"Exotic Pork" otherwise known as Wild Boar with Red Curry was very flavorful, with an assertive level of heat to the curry, but I must say that the version around the corner at Thai Chef and Noodle Fusion had a more balanced curry and more tender pork.

gallery_23992_2186_105458.jpg

The surprise favorite of the night was the Drunken Noodles which had a perfect chewy texture to the wide rice noodles, dosed with a basil-laced sauce. The chicken that accompanied was moist and tasty as well.

So, despite a somewhat lackluster start, we ended up really enjoying Erawan, especially the Masaman curry and Drunken noodles. This place requires more investigation too.

But first, we're rotating through some of the other options. Stay tuned...

Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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