Ask any New Yorker who has been here longer than a decade for the best Thai restaurants in NYC, and they will undoubtably point you towards Queens, specifically Elmhurst. And this is still the epicenter of Thai fare in New York.
But, about 10 years ago, amplified by a trend serving the cuisine of Isan, the region in northeastern Thailand, excellent and inspiring Thai restaurants began popping up all over the city. The Isan cuisine trend may be gone but left in its wake are a handful of fantastic Thai restaurants.
Our guide to the tastiest Thai restaurants in NYC
Anchored in Elmhurst since 2008, Ayada is one of the legacy Thai eateries of Queens. And it’s still great. Ayada does masterful versions of Thai dishes you’ve eaten a million times—pad Thai, drunken noodles—but for those who want to go on a more uncharted culinary adventure, there are also some lesser-known gems like the crispy catfish salad. The family-run restaurant also has a newer outpost in the Chelsea Market.
Fish Cheeks challenges the false and unfortunate notion that Asian food needs to be cheap and of relatively low quality. Good for them. And for you, as Fish Cheeks is one of the best Thai restaurants in New York City.
Not that the place is prohibitively expensive; it’s priced like most Manhattan restaurants (or in this case, NoHo). And the food coming out of the kitchen is oh-so satisfying. The crispy, spicy chicken wings have become a must-have signature. We also recommend the tender grilled pork cheeks, the coconut crab curry, and the Isan-style grilled chicken. But whatever is on the menu, you really can’t go wrong here.
This Elmhurst, Queens restaurant opened in 2017 and immediately sent the city’s Thai food aficionados into a minor frenzy. This wasn’t just any ordinary Esan (or Isan) restaurant: Hug offers a monster variety of Isan dishes that are hard to find outside of the northeastern Thai region itself, including several variations on the theme of somtum, the ubiquitous green papaya salad. The crispy duck doused with garlic sauce and the pork-filled crepes are also excellent.
Noods ‘n’ Chill
It’s a perplexing-to-downright-dumb name, but the food at this Williamsburg spot is excellent. A word of warning to the chili-averse: the dishes at Noods ‘n’ Chill can be spicy: choose your spice level and diners who opt for “spicy” will have their bowels doing some serious overtime work for days; choose “Thai spicy” and you may actually melt right there on the spot. (“Clean-up at Table 4, please!”)
The curry noodle soups here are dreamy—meaning, you might be dreaming of them for days after your meal (provided you don’t get them too spicy; then you’ll have nightmares). Brave diners might want to try the pork blood noodle soup called Boat Blood Noodle, which sounds a lot like a Southeast Asian horror movie, but has a much more pleasant finish.
Modeled after the steam-table restaurants, or raan khao kaeng, that are common in Thailand, Khao Kang is worth a trek to Elmhurst, Queens from wherever you’re based in New York City. Walk in and you’ll be met by 10 or 12 steamtrays, often they’re unlabeled. Point and nod to what looks good and soon enough you’ll have a plate of Thai deliciousness in front of you.
When you wanted excellent Thai in New York City 15 or so years ago, this was the one and only place to go. Since the 1990s, this Thai restaurant in NYC has gone from a diminutive no-fuss spot to an ever-expanding large restaurant with a huge outdoor garden for dining. The now-iconic restaurant has been consistent in cooking up sizzlingly spicy Thai fare to loyal and adoring regulars. Even now that there’s some major competition, SriPraPhai is still extremely satisfying.
One of the first Isan restaurants to open up in Manhattan, Somtum Der is an outpost from the original restaurant in Bangkok. It’s good. So good that Michelin once gave it one of its venerable stars. The East Village restaurant has been consistently satisfying since the day it opened in 2013.
The signature somtum, or green papaya salad, is an obligatory first dish to order and share, before moving on to the larb, or meat salads, that are both spicy and complex in taste. The Thai fried chicken is also worth a bite or five.
Everyone loves an ugly baby. Well, not really. But everyone loves this Ugly Baby. This Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn restaurant makes it increasingly difficult to eat here: during the pandemic you had to DM the eatery through Instagram to get a reservation and now they demand you pre-order your meal via the website Tock.
Good thing Ugly Baby is one of the best Thai restaurants in New York City that Thai food lovers are willing to put forth the extra energy to eat here. And the food at Ugly Baby is spicy. Not, like, farang (or non-Thai) spicy, but seriously hot. You’ve been warned!
Located in Bushwick, this relatively unheralded but stylish-looking eatery specializes in small plates, otherwise known as Thai drinking snacks. So come here thirsty. And a bit hungry too, as the handful of small plates offered by Tong are saliva inducing. Crispy banana blossom fritters, spicy Isan-style beef tartare, and smoky grilled eggplant make for an excellent introduction to Tong.
Pronounced “Sood,” this East Village spot went under the radar for a while since it opened during the peak of the pandemic. Word is out, though, and that word is that Soothr is one of the best Thai options in Manhattan.
The palate-kicking pork ribs are crispy on the outside and fall-off-the-bone tender inside; the caramelized duck served over noodles is a flavor-popping affair you’ll want to return for; and the khao soi, a speciality of Chiang Mai and its surroundings, is one of the best in the city.
From the people who brought us the lower Manhattan Thai phenomenon Uncle Boon’s comes a newer Southeast Asian sensation: Thai Diner. If you were a fan of the erstwhile Boon’s, there are a lot of greatest hits on the Thai Diner menu. But there’s just so much more that you may want to add Thai Diner to your phone calendar and hit “repeat every week.”
Why is this one of the best Thai restaurants in NYC? Thai Diner does Southeast Asian staples in a masterful and satisfying way but the menu here can get playful too, with a very good Thai-accented egg sandwich and even Thai tea babka French toast.
David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes here and here.